Monday, April 14, 2014

Rajesh Nair, SDM '12: Teaching Entrepreneurship in India

By Kathryn O'Neill, MIT SDM Correspondent
Rajesh Nair, SDM '12
Photo by Kathy
Tarantola Photography

A successful entrepreneur with two master's degrees, Rajesh Nair, SDM '12, applied to MIT's System Design and Management (SDM) program to gain a broader, systems perspective on his business. What he got was a new mission in life—to tackle the problems of the developing world through entrepreneurship.

"I am still the CTO and chairman of my company, but now I see a much larger role that I want to play in the world," said Nair, who created an entrepreneurship program in India with the aid of a fellowship from MIT's Tata Center for Technology and Design. "Now my goal is to create a program that can generate 1,000 entrepreneurs in the next three years."

A self-described "gadget designer," Nair got his first master's in electronic product design and technology from the Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. But, he soon realized that a product's design is only as good as it is manufacturable. So, he got a master's in manufacturing engineering from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.

Nair went on to found his own company, Degree Controls, which specializes in heat management for electronics. But after the business had become a multimillion-dollar venture, Nair found himself eager to investigate larger, systems challenges. "Every technical product we were making was a subsystem to a larger system, which in in turn was a subsystem itself—all finally serving a broader social system," he said. "That started to interest me a lot."

He decided to get another master's degree—in engineering and management—from SDM because the program had something he couldn't find anywhere else: "The program gives you that 30,00-foot view," Nair said.

At SDM, Nair realized that entrepreneurship could solve many of the complex, systems challenges facing developing countries like India, where he grew up. "If you can convert more graduates into entrepreneurs, they will go out and solve these problems and create jobs," he said. "If you look at the last 30 to 40 years, you see that almost all new jobs are created by startups. Existing companies were negative job creators."

For his SDM thesis project, Nair therefore decided to investigate whether entrepreneurship training could inspire college students to launch new businesses in India. Synthesizing many of the lessons he learned at SDM—in system architecture, system dynamics, product design and development, and more—Nair developed and ran a seven-week workshop on entrepreneurship at Mar Baselios College of Engineering and Technology, a small school in the south of India with no existing entrepreneurship program.
Rajesh Nair, SDM '12, poses with his entrepreneuship
students at Mar Baselios College of Engineering
and Technology in Trivandrum, India.

"My thought was if I could go to the general population, a village or school, and teach them a basic method where any average student could take on entrepreneurial thinking, you could get more entrepreneurs," Nair said, who introduced students to a full range of entrepreneurship skills, from product design to business strategy.

The result? Out of 50 students, more than 30 now say they now want to become entrepreneurs, and the class spawned six startups—at a college that had produced just one student startup in the previous 12 years.

"These students helped me find my next mission," said Nair, who is now trying to streamline his workshop so that he can kick-start businesses more quickly; he plans to teach another workshop in India this April. "I think we can inspire the next generation to take the [entrepreneurship] risk."

Thursday, March 27, 2014

SDM Alums Use Systems Thinking to Help Power Chilean Observatory

By Jorge Moreno, SDM '11, and Donny Holaschutz, SDM '10

Jorge Moreno, left, and Donny Holaschutz
at the Paranal Observatory.
Jorge Moreno, SDM '11, and Donny Holaschutz, SDM '10, launched their consulting company, inodú, to bring innovative solutions to the globe's energy and sustainability challenges. Recently, the company took on a major project to help the Chilean Energy Ministry and the European Southern Observatory (ESO) find energy supply alternatives for one of the most advanced observatory complexes in the world. Learn more about their work in this presentation, which is part of the MIT SDM Systems Thinking Webinar Series.

The challenge: With crystal clear skies and dry air, the European Southern Observatory is located in one of the best 1,000 square kilometers for astronomic observation on the planet (Figure 1). In the next 10 years, the ESO plans to expand its facilities by constructing the European Extremely Large Telescope (E-ELT) on a mountain in Chile known as Cerro Armazones (Figure 2). The E-ELT will be 22 kilometers from the existing Paranal Observatory. The addition of the E-ELT will triple the electricity consumption in an area that is currently isolated from the grid.
Figure 1. The European Southern
Observatory's facilities. © ALMA (ESO/NAOJ/NRAO)

Figure 2. Artist's rendering of European
Extremely Large Telescope.[1] © ESO/L. Calçada

The planned construction of the E-ELT and the challenges faced by the current energy system encouraged ESO to re-evaluate its energy supply strategy. Working with the Chilean Energy Ministry and ESO, inodú developed solutions that could help the latter cope with planned increases in energy consumption, identify energy efficiency measures, and satisfy the need for electricity in a more reliable, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly manner. The project led by inodú is part of a long history of collaboration between the Chilean government and ESO, and it aligns with the goals of the Chilean Energy Strategy 2012-2030, which aims to scale up the deployment of renewable energy projects and energy efficiency measures.

The approach: To re-architect ESO's energy system and identify sustainable energy-efficiency measures, inodú used an integrated set of methodologies grounded in systems thinking. The company began by investigating the facts and key stakeholders' perceptions of how the energy system should create value for current and future observatory operations. The team visited the Paranal Observatory facilities to evaluate the existing energy system and to learn what is needed for a night of observations. Finally, inodú engaged local suppliers of batteries, solar panels, wind turbines, and various types of fossil fuel generators to explore what potential energy solutions are available in the market.

The inodú team then developed energy system goals and requirements. By engaging the stakeholders and understanding the local context, the team was able to consider the system beyond purely economic considerations—including such properties as reliability, maintainability, flexibility, adaptability, reparability, modularity, evolve-ability, robustness, and environmental friendliness. The system goals and requirements synthesized by the team were used to establish a frame of reference by which all possible solutions could be evaluated.

Next, inodú employed a powerful modeling tool to evaluate many hybrid system configurations (solar, wind, batteries, and fossil fuel generators) and assess them in light of the defined system goals and requirements. These potential solutions were then compared to connecting the observatory to the grid, 50 kilometers from the facility. Finally, the team conducted a study to identify some of the legal and permitting challenges associated with the development of the project.
Figure 3. Potential hybrid system solutions shown against cost and environmental friendliness metrics.

The findings:
The "design space" was defined and analyzed through the frame of reference set by the system goals and requirements. The team identified the following insights (Figure 3):
  • Based on wind and solar resource assessments, the expected observatory load profile, and equipment alternatives, the solar/fossil fuel generator hybrid solution will be more reliable, cost-efficient, and environmentally friendly than a wind/fossil fuel generator hybrid solution.
  • The size and number of the fossil fuel generators are the design variables that have the most impact on the current configuration's environmental friendliness and cost efficiency metrics.
Understanding the stakeholders' needs and constraints allowed the team to finally arrive at five potential solutions based on hybrid systems. In addition, the team evaluated the option of developing a transmission line to connect the observatory complex to the grid. The alternatives can power Paranal's energy demand with the E-ELT included. A summary of the evaluation is presented in Figure 4. It was found that the cost of the transmission is comparable to the cost of developing hybrid-isolated system solutions in the region.
Figure 4. Evaluation of cases against defined requirements.

The results:
By synthesizing the key stakeholders' constraints and perceptions of how the energy system should create value for the observatory—as well as visiting Paranal to observe the system and the operators at work—inodú facilitated a joint fact-finding process that allowed the Chilean government and ESO to systematically evaluate different alternatives for providing energy to the Paranal Observatory and the future E-ELT.

Inodú found that developing a high-voltage transmission line to Chile's Central Interconnected System is comparable in cost to developing a highly reliable hybrid isolated system. The development of a transmission line would elegantly satisfy the primary system goal, which is to facilitate astronomic observation in a more reliable, cost-effective, and environmentally friendly manner.

Special thanks: We would like to thank Marcel Silva from the Chilean Energy Ministry and Roberto Tamai from the European Southern Observatory for their support of this project.

Learn more about inodú
About the authors

Jorge Moreno
SDM alumnus Jorge Moreno, an inodú cofounder, has extensive experience in the energy industry in the United States and Latin America. He holds a master's degree in engineering and management from MIT and bachelor's and master's degrees in electrical engineering from the Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile.
Donny Holaschutz
SDM alumnus Donny Holaschutz, also an inodú cofounder, is a seasoned entrepreneur with experience in both for- and not-for-profit ventures related to clean and sustainable technology. He holds a master's degree in engineering and management from MIT and bachelor's and master's degrees in aerospace engineering from the University of Texas at Austin.


1The E-ELT will have a 39-meter mirror, making it the biggest telescope in the world to observe in the visible and the near-infrared spectra. The total cost of the E-ELT is €1,083 million, spread over 10 years.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

MIT Natural Resources Study Tour: Digging Deep into the Chilean Mining Business

By Renato Lima de Oliveira, MIT Ph.D. Student, Political Science

An interdisciplinary group of researchers, faculty, and students from MIT and Harvard traveled to Chile in December 2013 to explore innovation, technology transfer in the mining industry, and a vision for the future of cities that are impacted by the exploitation of natural resources in a study tour organized by the MIT Mining and Oil & Gas Club (MOG), MIT International Science and Technology Initiatives (better known as MISTI) Chile, and the MIT Sloan Latin America Office. The aim of the group was both to learn more about Chile's mining industry and to exchange information and practices to further contribute to the industrial and social developmental of the Andean country.
Stakeholders and members of the MIT Mining and Oil & Gas Club,
which was founded by SDM students.
Chile is the world's largest producer of copper and is known for combining increasing levels of economic and social development with a commodity-based economy. "This trip was a concrete effort to increase the awareness and interest inside the MIT community about the natural resources industry on a global scale. At the same time, it helped to promote MIT to the stakeholders of the natural resources industry. We selected Chile because mining has been its most important industry for the last century," said Juan Esteban Montero, SDM '12, one of the founders of MOG and himself a native Chilean. "During this trip, we had the opportunity to work together with people from every part of the industry, from engineers to community leaders and government officials. I think that MIT founder William Barton Rogers, who was a geologist and educator, would be proud to see the MIT students, researchers, and professors working together in a multidisciplinary way in one of the most important mining regions of the world." In addition to minerals, Chile is a large producer and exporter of wines, fruits, and forestry products.

The workshop kicked off December 1 in Santiago, with the opening ceremony of the Eighth Meeting of the Copper 2013 Conference. The Copper 2013 Conference, an important copper industry conference that takes place only every three years, featured presentations by MIT faculty and students, including Assistant Professor Antoine Allanore of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Miguel Paredes, Ph.D. student in the Department of Urban Studies and Planning, and Sergio Burdiles, Sloan Fellow '12.

Also during Copper 2013, Nancy Leveson, professor of aeronautics and astronautics and of engineering systems at MIT, presented research based on her recent book, Engineering a Safer World (MIT Press, 2012). In this work, she proposes a model of systemic evaluation that leads to safer systems, the Systems-Theoretic Accident Model and Processes, or STAMP. She also presented the STAMP approach and its advantages over traditional methods during a meeting at the Chilean Safety Association (ACHS), which was very well received. "We want to bring the best practices to Chile, and this talk by Professor Leveson on system safety was really important to further our mission," said Sebastian Reyes, vice president of strategy at ACHS. The association provides safety and insurance solutions to half of the corporate market of Chile, employing about 5,000 people. Leveson was joined in introducing the STAMP model to Chile by John Helferich, SDM '10, an MIT Ph.D. student in materials science. Helferich presented the model and its uses for food safety to the MIT Chile Club, which gathers the MIT alumni community from that country.

Diego Hernandez (right), ex-president of Corporacion
Nacional del Cobre de Chile (Codelco-Chile), the largest copper
production company in the world, with SDM alumni John Helferich (left)
and Juan Esteban Montero (center), a cofounder of MOG,
at the Copper 2013 Conference in Santiago, Chile.
In addition to participating in the Copper 2013 Conference, on the third day of the trip the group visited the Advanced Mining Technology Center (AMTC) at the University of Chile. The AMTC comprises almost 200 researchers working in five different groups: exploration and ore deposit modeling, mine planning and design, mineral processing and extractive metallurgy, mining automation, and water and environmental sustainability. In common, all groups aim to address the challenges facing today's complex mining production. The AMTC produces both basic research as well as specific projects with mining companies, such as the Chilean state-owned Codelco and international giants BHP Billiton, Anglo American, and Vale. MIT students and faculty learned about the main projects that each research group is conducting, such as developing physical models of completely automated mineral extraction for underground mining, driverless cars for mining applications, and bacterial leaching of copper sulfide ores in underground mining. The principal investigator of this last project, Dr. Tomás Vargas, hosted the MIT group in its visit to the AMTC along with Rodrigo Cortés, manager of the technology transfer division.

Santiago has a significant concentration of the population, universities, and companies of Chile, but the mining industry is centered in other regions. Following mens et manus, the guiding MIT spirit of "mind and hand," the workshop proceeded to where production actually takes place, which meant traveling more than 1,000 kilometers from Santiago to Antofagasta, a municipality in the north of Chile in the Atacama Desert. The second part of the workshop started December 4 in Antofagasta and comprised visits to the Escondida mine and the Komatsu factory as well as talks with local stakeholders and social entrepreneurs.

The Escondida Copper Mine

Chile is the major world producer of copper, and the Escondida mine is itself the biggest copper mine of the world, producing 5 percent of global output. It was discovered in 1981, and commercial exploration started 10 years later. The mine is operated by BHP Billiton and employs about 15,000 workers and subcontractors. It is located at 3,100 meters (10,170 feet) above sea level and 170 kilometers (100 miles) from Antofagasta. There, the workshop participants had access to several facilities and productive process, getting to know this massive operation that is managed by state-of-the-art techniques and capital equipment. "While visiting Escondida, I had the opportunity to speak with local workers and I was extremely impressed with their dedication to improve their condition through innovation," said Jared Atkinson, an MIT Ph.D. student in geophysics.

Building a Better Antofagasta

On December 5, the MIT group dived into the reality of the mining city of Antofagasta. In different activities, the group helped to articulate a vision for the future of the city and to devise solutions to day-to-day problems. In a truly interactive and hands-on experience, the group started the day promoting Antofagasta's first "hackathon" to discuss the future of the city, 200 years from now. A hackathon is a collaborative event focused on creating solutions to given problems, an idea originally created by computer programmers. This activity was followed by a meeting with local executives and social entrepreneurs, who provided their insights to the MIT students and also learned business, technology, and social practices from the group from Massachusetts.
Participants in the MIT Natural Resources Study Tour at the Komatsu plant.
Political scientists and economists frequently point to the unique developmental challenges that resource abundance brings. To help Antofagasta manage its resources, the workshop promoted a meeting with local stakeholders to discuss the future of the city that today is heavily dependent on the copper industry and susceptible to the fluctuation of commodity prices. An initial presentation by MIT Ph.D. candidate Julio Pertuze addressed the history of MIT and its more than 150 years of innovation and close collaboration with the industry.

Participants were then divided into two groups and worked to envision the headlines of a newspaper published 200 years from now. In this activity, they discussed what they want the city to be and what paths of action are conducive to long-term development and diversification. "Desert is the place to live: Antofagasta beats Oslo in quality of life," read one headline. This kicked off a discussion of quality of life in the city and opportunities for knowledge creation, adoption of renewable sources of energy, and sustainable environmental practices. "I think we have a lot of potential in Antofagasta. We have to believe in our capacity to innovate and build a better city," said Mathias Werth, an industrial engineer who participated in the hackathon and has lived most of his life in the city. Werth is manager of the Komatsu plant, a unit that provides support for heavy machinery used in the mining industry. The next day, Werth hosted the MIT visitors at the Komatsu factory, showing them all the facilities and revealing how the adoption of new technologies and production process has enabled this local unit of a multinational company to expand production, local employment, and markets beyond Chile.

Following the hackathon, local entrepreneurs joined the group from Cambridge for an exchange of knowledge and best practices. The meeting gathered participants from a variety of backgrounds, including startup investors, community organizers, college students, and cultural producers. Each of the more than 20 groups at the meeting presented their business activities and main challenges, followed by mentoring from the MIT students. Issues ranged from financial challenges such as raising capital to social issues, including improving local education and youth inclusion.

The mentoring activity was an opportunity for local entrepreneurs to meet each other, exchange experiences, and develop team solutions to common challenges with the help of the MIT team. To achieve that, students trained in the M.B.A. and Sloan Fellows programs presented their business experience and talked about business strategies and how to develop them, providing examples from their own personal experiences and methodologies developed through the MIT social enterprise program.

The message resonated with the locals. "What impressed me the most was the inspirational message that I heard today. No matter what happens, I know I want to be a successful entrepreneur," said Giselle Cerda, a native of Antofagasta who recently graduated with a degree in tourism and is working on a proposal for a social project aimed at improving the identification of inhabitants with the city and its history. The exchange of experiences was also a highlight for Grace Zamorano, a teacher who is trying to fund a project aimed at introducing recycling practices in the mining city. "It was really helpful and I heard lots of good ideas," said Zamorono.

December 6, the final day of the trip, was dedicated to a visit to the Komatsu plant and social projects in Antofagasta. Members of MOG praised the schedule and organization, which had being locally managed by Francisco Delpino, who is also a mining engineer. "I really liked the trip as a whole. We learned about the mining industry from many angles. This trip gave me a unique perspective about the people who work in this industry and the opportunities that technology can offer to solve problems and necessities that can change the production and human beings," said Yuly Fuentes-Medel, a postdoctoral fellow at MIT Sloan and one of the founders of MOG.

"The impact of this trip aligned well with the goals of the MIT Sloan Latin America Office. I was able to promote various academic programs to potential applicants, there was some serious exchange of cutting-edge research, and the students really committed themselves by not only observing what was happening but influencing and exchanging ideas through the hackathon and the entrepreneurship workshop with local stakeholders. These events encouraged new multidisciplinary ways of thinking," stated Julie Strong, director of the MIT Sloan Latin America Office.

Excited by the results of the trip, club members are already planning new activities. "This trip to Chile, with its sound planning and impressive execution, went beyond the highest expectations, adding real value and leaving a strong impression on all those involved. Initiatives like this must be repeated, and we have been analyzing scenarios for visiting East Africa, Brazil, or Australia, where the extractive industries are facing particularly interesting challenges," said Jorge Le Dantec, SDM '13, president of MOG.


Antoine Allanore — MIT Professor, Department of Materials Science and Engineering
Bernhard Stohr — MIT M.B.A. '13
Bill Finney — MIT Water Quality and Environment
Cristobal Garcia — MIT S.M. '04
Emele Uka — MIT Chemical Engineering Undergraduate
Juan Esteban Montero — MIT Engineering Systems Graduate Student (Participant & Organizer)
Jared Atkinson — MIT Ph.D. Student, Geomechanics
Jason Gonzales — MIT M.B.A. Student
John Helferich — MIT Ph.D. Student, Materials Science and Engineering
Jorge Moreno — MIT S.M. '13, Engineering Systems
Julie Strong — Director, MIT Sloan Latin America Office
Julio Pertuze — MIT Ph.D. Student, Engineering Systems
Nancy Leveson — MIT Professor Aeronautics and Astronautics and Engineering Systems
Rachel deLucas — MIT Materials Science Researcher
Renato Lima de Oliveira — MIT Ph.D. Student, Political Science
Sergio Burdiles — MIT Sloan Fellow
Tomas Folch — Harvard Graduate School of Design Research Associate
Yuly Fuentes-Medel — MIT Postdoc, Sloan School of Management
Camila Nardozzi — MIT MISTI Program Manager MIT-Chile (Organizer)

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Daniel Adsit, SDM '13: Systems Integration

By Kathryn O'Neill, MIT SDM Correspondent

Daniel Mark Adsit, SDM '13, discovered the importance of systems thinking—and of combining engineering with management—even before entering MIT's System Design and Management (SDM) master's program.

In his first job, as a website designer and developer for small nonprofits, Adsit observed that business leaders frequently have trouble understanding the language of technology and that technical personnel, in turn, often lose sight of business objectives. "I started out as a technical person, but I realized that's not really going to get it done," Adsit said. "Solving real-world problems is what's important."

That's why he chose SDM. "I'd thought about an M.B.A. but it never really felt like the right fit for me," said Adsit, who came to SDM with seven years of experience working on large-scale information technology and supply chain integration projects in more that 15 countries.

SDM offered Adsit the opportunity to work with other mid-career professionals who shared his interest in using systems thinking to solve large-scale, complex challenges. "In SDM you get a rich experience working with people from different industries and different backgrounds," he said. "I'd spent most of my career in manufacturing and supply chains, so it was wonderful to work with people from healthcare, software development, nonprofit, and the military who are all experiencing analogous systems challenges."

Adsit joined SDM from Eaton Corporation, where he worked as a specialist evaluating, selecting, and implementing new system technologies to improve information visibility, enhance business capabilities, and streamline global order fulfillment. Although he entered the program as an experienced systems integrator, SDM was able to provide him with fresh insights.

"What I got out of SDM was a way to organize the experiences I'd had and make sense of them," Adsit said. "The key takeaway from the program is about optimizing the overall system rather than any particular piece."

Adsit graduated from MIT in February and launched his own company—Mergence Systems—to put systems integration tools and techniques, including concepts learned at SDM, to work helping companies integrate new technologies into existing systems. "I make sure technology is delivering value in a way that is relevant to stakeholders and those using the system," he said.

While Mergence Systems is still a new venture, Adsit is already making use of his SDM skills—particularly those taught in Systems Engineering, a required course. "Quality functional deployment is really helpful for relating a system's technical requirements to user needs," he said. "And, Pugh analysis can be used for evaluating, selecting, and combining concepts based on those underlying requirements."

Coursework from SDM Leadership: The Missing Link is also proving valuable. "That course is all about trying to have better interactions with people so you can better solve their problems," Adsit said. "It's such a meaningful course."

When he's not on the job, Adsit enjoys traveling—particularly to Eastern Europe—but he says he'll always be glad he spent time in Boston with SDM. "Being involved with something at MIT was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," he said. "SDM is amazing."

Monday, March 10, 2014

Wilfredo 'Alex' Sanchez Honored for Leadership, Innovation, Systems Thinking

By Lois Slavin, MIT SDM Communications Director

Alex Sanchez
Photo by Dave Schultz
On March 10, 2014, the SDM community convened for the presentation of the Class of 2013 MIT SDM Student Award for Leadership, Innovation, and Systems Thinking. The award, created by the SDM staff in 2010, honors an SDM student who, during his or her first year of matriculation, demonstrates the highest level of:
  • strategic, sustainable contributions to fellow SDM students and the broader SDM and MIT communities;
  • skills in leadership, innovation, and systems thinking; and
  • effective collaboration with SDM staff, fellow students, and alumni.
This year's winner, Wilfredo "Alex" Sanchez, received a cash prize. He was honored for numerous contributions, including:
  • serving as chair of SDM's Student Leadership Council;
  • coordinating logistics for the MIT Career Fair attended by 6,000 students—including contracting, catering, mail service, hotels, and parking for 400 organizations and 1,500 human resources representatives as well as corresponding with 400 organizations to raise SDM's visibility in advance of the event;
  • assisting with SDM Silicon Valley Tech Trek outreach and recruitment efforts; and
  • fostering an environment of inclusion for all SDM fellows by serving as an active member of Sloan LGBT, participating in an LGBT panel during fall 2013 Sloan Innovation Period, and meeting with Sloan LGBT AdMITs during campus visits.
    Suzanne Livingston
    Photo by Dave Schultz
Finalists for the award included SDM '13s Suzanne Livingston and Marianna Novellino. Both were cited for several significant contributions, including serving as key members of WiSDM (Women in SDM) and cofounding (with others) the MIT Product Management Club (PMC).
Since its founding in spring semester, 2013, the PMC:
  • grew from fewer than 20 members to over 300;
  • offered meetings and workshops for students with experts from Microsoft, LuckyLabs, Google, Cisco, Yelp, the venture capitalist community, and product management educator John Mansour;
  • created a highly attended (80+ students) mock interview event that brought experienced project managers from Google, IBM, Akamai, and others to MIT to help students sharpen interviewing skills;
  • became the first SDM-initiated club to be recognized by Sloan, which provides significant funding and marketing opportunities;
  • established a partnership between MIT and the Boston Product Management Association (BPMA), enabling all MIT students to attend BPMA events and recruiting sessions at reduced membership rates.
    Marianna Novellino
    Photo by Dave Schultz
In addition, Novellino:
  • Served as managing director of MIT's 2014 Sustainability Summit and as a panel coordinator for the 2013 Sustainability Summit;
  • Helped coordinate 32 events during 2013 as a member of the SDM Student Life Committee; and
  • Currently works on water supply systems in rural communities in India as a Tata Fellow.
Congratulations and thank you to all!

Friday, February 28, 2014

Charles Iheagwara, SDM '10: Cybersecurity Breach at University of Maryland

Charles Iheagwara
SDM alumnus and cybersecurity expert Charles Iheagwara, Ph.D., was recently interviewed about a serious data breach at the University of Maryland. View the video segment here.

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Sagini Ramesh, SDM '14: Gaining Engineering and Management Skills to Help Others

By Kathryn O'Neill, MIT SDM Correspondent

Sagini Ramesh, SDM '14
Photo by Dave Schultz
As a volunteer in tsunami-ravaged Sri Lanka, Sagini Ramesh, SDM '14, saw firsthand what it's like to live without easy access to technology. That's why her goal in attending MIT's SDM master's program is to gain the engineering and management skills she needs to help those less fortunate.

"I looked at SDM and I thought: Yes, it can help my career, but it can really help me help other people. And that was key," said Ramesh, who hopes one day to build a consulting practice providing technology to developing countries. "SDM will give me the knowledge, background, and connections to do that."

A native of Sri Lanka, Ramesh escaped the island's civil war with her family when she was just 5 years old. She returned for the first time as a college student following the 2004 tsunami and discovered a country very different from Canada, where she grew up. "It was a culture shock," she said. "The northeast section where I was didn't have grid electricity—they had to use generators. There were no cellphone networks and no Internet."

Ramesh had volunteered to rebuild houses, but she found her programming skills were in higher demand. So, she helped construct an ambulance tracking and medical records system for a local hospital. "This was first time I felt I worked on something meaningful," she said, noting that the experience opened her eyes to the advantages of a career in software. "We take a lot of things for granted growing up in North America."

Ramesh graduated from Waterloo University and went on to work as a software engineer for Vistaprint. She is currently a senior project manager for Vistaprint's global customer service centers. She planned to attend graduate school, but initially she was unsure whether to pursue engineering or management. "I loved working with people from diverse backgrounds, strategizing and managing projects, but when I looked at an MBA, it honestly wasn't so appealing to me," she said. "I am an engineer at heart: I want to understand how things work and how they come together, and have the technical aptitude to be able to design and innovate."

Then she heard about SDM, which combines management and engineering. "I looked at it and said, 'Wow, this is perfect.'"

Ramesh started in January and has already put several lessons to use from her initial SDM projects. For example, a design challenge given to the cohort provided her with benchmarking experience she can directly apply at work. "I picked up skills I'll be using the next time I select vendors," she said.

Meanwhile, Ramesh is advancing her long-term goals by taking a class in Humanitarian Logistics that centers on how to move materials into areas of need. "This is what I eventually want to do, so I'm learning how the supply chain works," she said.

She is also benefiting from SDM's emphasis on team-building skills. "That's very different from typical school, which is so competitive," she said. "[Here] you simultaneously learn from, and educate, each other.

It's a familiar model for Ramesh. Raised by a single mother, Ramesh learned the value of education early as her mother worked factory jobs to put her and her sister through college. Ramesh, in turn, helped put her younger sister through medical school. And now, her mother is helping Ramesh and her husband—Ramesh* Sundralingam, a lab technician at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center—care for their 3-year-old son, Ellalan, so Ramesh can attend SDM.
Sagini Ramesh, SDM '14, with her mother, son, and husband.
"I wouldn't be where I am without Amma [Mom]," she said. "She's the biggest reason I could go back to grad school and work a full-time, demanding job."

* In the Tamil Sri Lankan tradition, wives take their husbands' first names as their last names.