Wednesday, June 11, 2008

SDM certificate program offers quick start in systems thinking - SDM Pulse, Summer 2008

Flexibility is a hallmark of MIT’s System Design and Management Program, which offers a suite of academic options to help companies implement systems thinking throughout their organizations. For companies that need a rapid infusion, SDM offers the career-compatible one-year graduate certificate program.

Companies that choose the certificate program often enroll several students at a time, all of whom continue to work. Typically, classes are attended at a distance, through videoconferencing. Certificate students take three SDM core courses, one each semester during the year. They spend two one-week sessions on campus and complete a capstone project.

Developed in 2002 to address the need to infuse systems thinking more quickly into some engineering organizations, the certificate program now also serves as a refresher course for senior engineers and as preparation for students who may enter the SDM program at a later date. Created at the request of United
Technologies, the certificate program has grown significantly, drawing 35 students this year, more than three times as many as in that first year. In addition to the United Technologies companies (Pratt and Whitney, Hamilton Sundstrand, Otis, UTC Fire and Security, UTC Power, UTC Research Center, and Sikorsky), John Deere, Boeing, ArvinMeritor, the Instrumentation Laboratory, Wachovia Financial, Tata Interactive Systems and others have become involved in the program.

The classes required for the certificate program are the core courses taken by the SDM master’s students: system architecture, systems engineering, and product design and development (the core SDM courses are fully described in previous issues of the Pulse, available online at ). SDM master’s and certificate students take these courses together.

The weeks spent on campus serve two purposes. The first is to bring certificate students together as a group for special lectures by MIT faculty that address system design and management issues and supplement the coursework. These sessions allow students to interact with one another and the faculty to develop a sense of the multidimensionality of systems thinking. In addition, representatives from sponsoring companies are
encouraged to attend and become exposed to the material the students are learning in the program. This latter aspect has been shown to be of high value for putting systems thinking into action within the corporation.

The capstone project generally addresses a problem of interest to the sponsoring company. Ideally, a team of two or three students work together on the capstone, integrating and applying their SDM lessons for the benefit of the company.

The certificate program begins this year on July 10. For more information on the program, contact John Grace at, David Erickson at, or Helen Trimble at

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