Friday, June 4, 2010

Student committee forges links between SDM, industry - SDM Pulse Summer 2010

By Matthew Harper, SDM ’10

Matthew Harper SDM ’10
Editor’s note: This article is one of a series highlighting the work of SDM’s Industrial Relations Committee.

Students in MIT’s System Design and Management Program (SDM) continually work to improve the SDM program through a number of student-led committees. The Industrial Relations Committee (IRC), which I currently chair, works to provide a link between the SDM community and the business world.
The committee is off to a great start this year, primarily because of the excellent work done by last year’s committee members. Good systems thinkers all, they looked beyond their immediate tasks and realized that while planning their own activities was important, ensuring a smooth transfer to this year’s committee was equally critical.
For those of you unfamiliar with our work, the IRC is generally responsible for enhancing relations between SDM and industry. We take a broad view and therefore undertake a wide variety of activities, including maintaining contact with alumni, assisting the cohort with career development, and working to engage companies in the SDM program. This last focus has become particularly important in recent years, as more and more SDM fellows have been self-sponsored. Past students have found that they learn most effectively when working on real-world problems, and so have been keen to involve companies in both their class projects and thesis work.
The increased proportion of self-sponsored students is one reason this year’s committee has chosen to focus on defining and promoting what “system design and management” means. One of the tasks last year’s committee had hoped to accomplish was to develop a series of short “elevator pitches” that SDM students could use to describe the program and the “systems thinking” it espouses to people not familiar with either. But we realized that there is no consensus of opinion, even within our cohort, on the term’s definition. Now that so many students are joining SDM from industries not traditionally engaged in systems engineering, we have a bigger challenge on our hands than we expected.
We have thus set out to answer three questions: Why are the systems thinking processes taught in the System Design and Management Program critical to managing a modern organization? What organizations are most likely to be receptive to the systems thinking methodology? and How do we clearly communicate the value of systems thinking? We’re just beginning to consider how to address these broad, challenging questions. However, we’re confident that with a bit of effort and creative thinking we’ll arrive at a conclusion that will help us evangelize the system thinking message to the world—and raise the profile both of MIT’s SDM program and its graduates in the process.
One of the great things about the committee this year is that we have had a very large number of students who want to participate—about 30 percent of the cohort is involved in IRC activities. To streamline our efforts, we’ve divided the group into subcommittees, each responsible for one distinct aspect of the IRC’s overall mandate. So far this year there are four subcommittees that have been particularly active, focusing on the SDM speakers’ series, career development, marketing, and industrial engagement.
Speakers series
The speakers series team is tasked with incorporating the perspectives of industry leaders into the SDM program. With the summer business trip approaching, Charles Iheagwara, SDM ’10, has taken time away from his multiple software businesses and his SDM studies to plan an excellent lineup of speakers. The keynote address will be presented by Mamoon Yunus, a noted serial entrepreneur. And later in the week, a panel of experts—including Ajay Mishra, global head of innovation for Nokia, and Darren Hammell, cofounder and executive vice president of Princeton Power Systems—will discuss how young executives can best manage their career paths. In addition, we’re all excited for the fall business trip, when Ngozi Iweala, managing director of the World Bank, and Neil Snyder, executive director of systems engineering and program management at the National Renewable Energy Laboratory will be speaking. These events are open to all members of the SDM community.
Career development
The career development focus area is being headed by Donny Holaschutz, SDM ’10, an associate in systems engineering and integration from Booz Allen Hamilton. Working with SDM’s Director of Career Development Helen Trimble, this subcommittee focuses on giving current SDM students tools and experiences to help them search for jobs and build successful careers. Recently, a member of our cohort presented an excellent seminar on the value of strategic networking, and two half-day seminars are planned for the summer business trip—one on networking and interviewing and one on the case interview method.
Marketing
The marketing team, led by former laser scientist Aravind Ratnam, SDM ’10, has been working with SDM Communications Director Lois Slavin on a number of initiatives designed to increase awareness of SDM. First the team is continuing an initiative started last year to refresh SDM’s website. With the guidance of SDM student Rafael Maranon, SDM ’10, a web expert who represents the students’ input, the redesign is currently under way; the new site should be launched in August, in time for the late summer and fall recruiting season.
The marketing team has also encouraged students to create their own blogs discussing, among other things, life as an SDM student. Several students are now actively participating, including SDM ’10s Azamat Abdymomunov, Firas Glaiel, Avi Latner, Ratnam, and Karl Critz, as well as SDM ’09s Ipshita Nag Deepak and Charles Atendcio. The SDM program blog on the SDM website links to these student blogs, as well as to blogs by SDM faculty and alums. In addition, a promotional video created jointly by SDM ’10 Tom Speller, SDM Logistics Coordinator Dave Schultz, and Slavin, is now available on MIT TechTV. The team is also working on a number of short videos describing the SDM program and its students, under Speller’s leadership. These videos will eventually be posted to the SDM site, to YouTube, and to MIT TechTV.
Industrial engagement
Finally, the industrial engagement focus area, led by mechanical engineer turned software architect Critz with the assistance of recently retired SDM Industry Codirector John M. Grace, has been busy developing a menu of ways that companies can get involved with the SDM program. Some, such as providing real-world projects for students to work on in class, dramatically enhance class learning while giving companies exposure to the rich talents of the SDM cohort. Extending that concept, sponsoring a student’s thesis work gives companies the chance to benefit from original research focused on their areas of interest. Planning ahead, we’re always looking for speakers, competition judges, and companies willing to host field trips. The IRC particularly hopes to expand its reach to industries that may be hiring SDM graduates but typically have not been involved with the program itself; examples include software, venture capital, cleantech, biotech, and entrepreneurial firms.
We only formed four months ago, but the SDM Industrial Relations Committee is off to a great start. If you would like to get involved or comment on our activities, please write mharper@sloan.mit.edu.
Who’s who on SDM’s Industrial Relations Committee
The following is a list of IRC members, their titles, company names, and industries.
Vincent Balgos
Systems Engineer
Instrumentation Laboratory
Health care and medical devices
Karl Critz
Product Manager
Brontes Technologies
Cleantech
Firas Glaiel
Software Development Manager
Raytheon NCS
Air traffic management systems
Eugene Gorelik
Senior Systems Engineer
EMC
Computer software and hardware
Jon Griffith
Director of Operations and
Partner Integration
MIT System Design and Management Program and Leaders for Global Operations Program
Pat Hale
Director
MIT System Design and Management Fellows Program
Senior Lecturer in Engineering Systems
Matt Harper
Product Manager
Prudent Energy International
Cleantech, energy storage
Donny Holaschutz
Associate
Booz Allen Hamilton
Consulting, aerospace
Charles Iheagwara
CTO
Unatek Inc.
IT, security
Jui Lim
Patent Licensing
IPValue Management
Intellectual property management
Rafael Maranon
Product Manager
Mildmac Advanced Solutions
Information technology
Aravind Ratnam
Key Account Technologist
Cymer Inc.
Lasers, semiconductors
Todd Reily
Lead Human Factors Engineer
MITRE Corporation
Government, defense
Arjun Shrinath
System Integration Engineer
Bose Corporation Automotive
Automotive electronics
Lois Slavin
Communications Director
MIT System Design and Management Program
Helen Trimble
Director, Career Development
MIT System Design and Management Program
Charlotte Wang
IT Management
Washington State Government
Public sector, technology policy

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