Monday, October 5, 2009

SDM portfolio evolves to serve global business - SDM Pulse, Fall 2009

By Lois Slavin, SDM communications director

Created in 1996 in response to industry’s need for technical professionals who could lead across organizational boundaries, MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM) is at the forefront of graduate and executive education. Its portfolio of career-compatible offerings, including a master’s program, a systems engineering certificate program, and an organizational leaders seminar series, incorporates state of-the art on-campus as well as distance learning options, flexible matriculation options, and an interdisciplinary perspective.

SDM Industry Codirector John M. Grace notes that because SDM combines business courses from the MIT Sloan School of Management and technical courses from the MIT School of Engineering, it provides graduates and their employers with a unique competitive edge. “SDM’s interdisciplinary curriculum teaches systems thinking and leadership geared specifically for engineers who want to collaborate and innovate in both technical and nontechnical arenas,” he said. “For this reason, SDM goes beyond the MBA and traditional executive education programs.”

The centerpiece of SDM’s portfolio is its rigorous 13- to 24-month graduate program. Originally created for corporate-sponsored students as a 24-month master’s program that could be taken primarily at a distance while students continued to work, SDM has evolved with the marketplace over the years. Its master’s degree program can now be taken in 13 to 16 months on the MIT campus or in up to 24 months either on campus or primarily at a distance (some on-campus time is required). Graduates receive an MS in engineering and management conferred by MIT Sloan and the School of Engineering. Several SDM alums have also gone on to pursue the ESD PhD.

Grace explained that SDM’s evolution is not surprising, as one of its primary academic thrusts is new product development with an emphasis on how to evolve products in an ever-changing world.

“The economic conditions and the increased scrutiny of the cost of fully supported educational programs in the late 1990s caused many of SDM’s founding companies to reduce the number of their employees fully sponsored in the program,” he said. “We found, however, that a larger number of self-sponsored students were applying and that they wanted to be on the MIT campus. This led to the development of flexible options that enabled students to complete the master’s program according to their needs.”

Today, thanks to lower costs in distance learning technologies, an SDM cohort is almost evenly split between on-campus and at-a-distance students.

What hasn’t changed—although it is continually updated to reflect the latest research—is SDM’s foundation: core courses in system architecture, systems engineering, and system and project management and their integration with classes in engineering and specially designed courses in management. Today, whether students enroll as fulltime on-campus students or part-time commuters/ distance learners, all SDM fellows work together in global teams on class assignments throughout matriculation.

As a result of the success of the master’s program, SDM has developed a portfolio of complementary programs. These include the one-year graduate certificate in systems engineering, offered at a distance in conjunction with three one-week business trips to MIT, and an oncampus seminar series in system engineering for organizational leaders. These programs address the corporate need to embed systems engineering principles and practices into the organization.

“SDM will continue to evolve with distance technologies and the need for technically grounded systems thinkers,” Grace said.

For further information, please contact John M. Grace, SDM industry codirector, at or 617.253.2081.

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