Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bridging the gap: A look at the Industrial Relations Committee - SDM Pulse Spring 2010

By Matthew Thompson, SDM ’09

As an engineer with nine years of experience in the medical device, defense, and space industries, I’ve had the opportunity to work on exciting products with great potential, only to see some fail due to a poorly informed decision or a misguided understanding of a customer or stakeholder. The frustration of seeing hard work destroyed on a whim drove me to seek change. I decided to pursue graduate education through MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM) to answer the question: How can I help individuals and organizations make better decisions?

Now a year later, after many late nights and countless group meetings spent with exceptional colleagues from varied personal and professional backgrounds, SDM has led me to an answer. I have developed a solid base of knowledge and tools that allows me to understand,analyze, evaluate, and communicate solutions to those who need them. As daunting as the challenges of the business world are, I have the confidence to tackle them and lead the design and management of complex systems.

With my original question answered, I began to ponder a new one: How do we educate the business world about the value of SDM fellows? An MBA or master’s in engineering is common and easy to understand, but an MS in engineering and management is rare and little known. Fortunately, the SDM program helped me again. After stepping into the role of chair of the SDM Industrial Relations Committee (IRC) in February 2009, I gained an understanding of this question and am now in a very good position to help answer it.

The IRC is a team rich with diverse industry experiences that is working to communicate the value of SDM graduates to the business world. The student-run committees, including the IRC, are designed to promote the continuous improvement of the SDM program. The IRC is tasked with improving the program’s relationship with industry, making it a bridge between SDM fellows and the business world. Over the last year, committee members have worked hard to promote SDM, both internally and externally. Though our efforts have been sincere, we know we can do more.
The Industrial Relations Committee’s December 9, 2009,
meeting was attended by, clockwise from bottom right,
James Peruvankal ’10, SDM Industry Codirector John M. Grace,
Jui Lim ’09, Amith Pervaje ’09, Operations and Partner
Integration Director Jon Griffith, Leyla Abdimomunova ’09,
Cyndi Hernandez ’09, Charles Atencio ’09,
Juan Spiniak ’09, and Arjun Shrinath ’10.
 In 2010, we hope to build on the work of this past year’s committee and improve partner companies’ access to the knowledge and skills of our diverse student body by identifying opportunities for more participation. From student projects in product design and development to assessing strategies for new, high-technology product lines, we can share the value of the SDM experience with companies and help them improve the bottom line. Through the hard work of SDM Industry Codirector John M. Grace, we are reaching out to partners to identify better avenues of collaboration. Aligning the academic interests of students with the real-world needs of partner companies can generate fresh ideas and new ways of thinking within organizations: systems thinking.

The potential doesn’t end with classroom projects. Companies also have the opportunity to connect with talented students and MIT faculty by seeding the topics of academic work—particularly through the SDM master’s thesis, which brings students, faculty, and industry together to create new knowledge and products guided by the company’s needs. Students want to work on problems that are relevant to the real world, and companies need new ideas to tackle the problems of an increasingly complex business environment. We plan to work more with Grace to facilitate the sponsorship process for interested companies and establish connections to students.

Like the other SDM student committees, the Industrial Relations Committee is a work in progress. With a blank slate before us at the start of the year, the members of the IRC seized the opportunity to pursue the growth and improvement of our program. In the face of the frustrating hiring conditions of a weak economy, we’ve taken up the role of raising the visibility of the program. A recent initiative to evolve the content and design of our website is in progress with changes taking place soon. We have also collaborated with our dedicated career development director, Helen Trimble, who has worked to increase the program’s visibility in career fairs and directly with potential hiring companies. Trimble has campaigned to promote the value, experience, and special skills SDM students bring to employers.

Another effort the committee has taken up this year is the development of a speaker series. Invited guests from industry come to the MIT campus to share their career experience, leadership challenges, and the pressing problems faced by their organizations. The committee has brought in speakers from Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, and the US Coast Guard with more to follow in the year ahead. It is the vision of the committee to involve interested industry partners to interact with students directly and share the systems challenges of their businesses, including both technical and managerial issues. We hope to develop a continuous flow of new speakers, constantly reinvigorating the thought among the students as to why this program is so important and useful to the world.

The IRC looks forward to engaging the SDM fellows of the 2010 cohort and incorporating their ideas and energy into this dynamic development process. The hard work of the 2009 IRC should give us the momentum to take leaps forward in improving our relations with industry and integrating them more successfully into the program, thus improving the value of a SDM fellow in the eyes of the business world.

No comments:

Post a Comment