Saturday, October 3, 2009

SDM culture embraces broad view of diversity - SDM Pulse, Fall 2009

By Lois Slavin, SDM communications director

From its inception and throughout its evolution, diversity has been a key component of MIT’s Systems Design and Management (SDM) Program. Systems thinking—the hallmark of SDM—requires an ability to appreciate and embrace diversity, so SDM has always sought students from a range of academic, professional, and personal backgrounds.

Diverse project teams in SDM classes are purposely
created to maximize students’ learning from their peers
in other industries and functions. This team shows
the results of its first design challenge—a remote
controlled robot. Members, from left to right, are:
Haiying Ren, project manager at Pratt & Whitney;
Arlan Sheets, project team lead at Raytheon Company;
Rajeev Kozhikkattuthodi, integration services delivery lead,
Tata Consultancy Services; Daniel Ledger, web tools
product manager, Analog Devices; Mark Moran,
technology architect, John Deere; and Jui Lim,
senior product manager, Amkor Technology.
Diversity at SDM both embraces and goes beyond the traditional categories of race and gender, said SDM Industry Codirector John M. Grace. “Because SDM is interdisciplinary and much of the academic work is team-based, we carefully select each year’s cohort to include not only women and underrepresented minorities, but mid- to upper-level managers who have a wide range of industry experience,” he said.

The SDM class that began the program in January 2009 is no exception. Almost 20 percent are women, including an MD and research fellow at Massachusetts General Hospital, an engineer at Sony Ericsson Mobile Communications, and a strategic planner in naval operations at Sikorsky Aircraft. The men are equally diverse, including a senior engineer from John Deere, a design engineer from Ford of Mexico, a director at Blackrock investment firm, and an assistant engineer from the United Nations.

The 2009 cohort also brings cultural, linguistic, and geographic diversity to the program. Members hail from across the United States and around the world, including India, Russia, China, Chile, Malaysia, Mexico, Pakistan, Singapore, France, Germany, Greece, Thailand, and Cote d’Ivoire. Students have experience in a range of industries—from automotive and aerospace to high-tech and the military, and a variety of companies—from IBM and Microsoft to Lockheed Martin and Boeing. They hold such positions as program director, senior engineer, technology architect, software development engineer, and R&D manager.

Grace notes that for virtually all projects except SDM’s required thesis, students are assigned to teams that are intentionally mixed. “This enables the students to learn from each other by sharing different perspectives and experiences. Knowing how to work together effectively is a critical attribute in today’s global marketplace,” said Grace. “It will serve them and their employers well.”

To continue to recruit the best and the brightest, an important component of SDM’s marketing involves reaching out to professional organizations, such as the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE). For example, in March 2009 SDM hosted a special information session at the MIT Faculty Club exclusively for members of SWE’s Boston chapter. SDM received special recognition at the chapter’s annual membership meeting and banquet for its support of SWE’s professional development and outreach programs.

SDM also plans to recruit potential students at the annual SHPE conference in late October 2009.

Grace said that SDM welcomes inquiries from human resources professionals at companies that may be interested in sending students to the program. For further information, please contact John M. Grace, SDM industry codirector, at or 617.253.2081.

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