System Design and Management

The mission of the System Design and Management Program (SDM) is to educate future technical leaders in architecture, engineering, and designing complex products and systems, preparing them for careers as the technically grounded senior managers of their enterprises. SDM intends to set the standards for delivering career-compatible professional education using advanced information and communication technologies. SDM was one of MIT's early entries into the field of distance education and remains the only degree-granting program at MIT that can be earned primarily from a remote location.

The SDM program is a joint offering of the School of Engineering and the Sloan School of Management, leading to a Master of Science degree in engineering and management. Targeted for professional engineers with three or more years of experience, the program centers on a 13-course curriculum in systems, engineering, and management, including a project-based thesis. It offers three curricular options: a 13-month in-residence format; a 24-month distance education for company-sponsored students, requiring one academic semester in-residence at MIT; and a 24-month on-campus program for self-supporting students who can obtain a research assistantship in one of MIT's labs or centers. The program was conceived as an alternative to the MBA for professional engineers, allowing working professionals to pursue a degree without interrupting their careers and relocating themselves and their families.

Denny Mahoney, Director of SDM Fellows, completed his second year in that position, providing a much-needed stability to program leadership. Co-Directors for the program include Paul Lagace, Bill Hanson, and Steve Eppinger. As of July 1, 2001, Steve Eppinger, General Motors Leaders for Manufacturing (LFM) Professor of Management at the Sloan School of Management, will assume the LFM-SDM Co-Director's position when Steve Graves will be appointed Chair of the Faculty.

Student Statistics

In January 2001, SDM admitted its fifth class, enrolling 37 students. In all, 11 organizations sponsored students in the incoming class, including LFM-SDM partner companies: United Technologies Corporation (UTC) (3), Ford Motor Company (10), National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) (10), Eastman Kodak (1).

In June 2001, SDM graduated its third full class. Forty of the 49 graduates attended the commencement ceremony to receive their degrees-a testament to the cohesiveness of this distance education group. The graduating class includes 11 employees from Ford, 10 from UTC, eight from Xerox, one from Eastman Kodak, as well as employees from Polaroid, Visteon, GM Delphi, GTE, Honeywell, Intel, the U.S. Navy, and Gemcor.

SDM continues to draw from a wide range of companies for its students. This past year, ArvinMeritor sponsored three students in the January 2001 class and has expressed interest in participating in the LFM-SDM partnership. Xerox, a long-time supporter of SDM, did not sponsor any employees this year because of difficult economic times for the corporation. United Technologies Corporation, which usually enrolls a significant number of employees into each SDM cohort, only sponsored three employees in SDM who were all from Pratt & Whitney, one of UTC's divisions. Several other business units within UTC, most notably Sikorsky and Otis Elevator, which normally sponsors students in SDM, did not do so last year because of internal reorganization. UTC, however, expects to increase its overall participation in SDM in the next intake as a result of a new educational partnership.

Table 1. System Design and Management Admissions Statistics

  1997 1998 1999 2000 2001
Admitted 35 58 47 50 37
On-Campus 8 16 6 14 8
Self-Supported 3 1 2 5 2
Research Assistant 3 12 2 4 3
Distance Education 27 42 41 36 29
Company-Sponsored 29 45 43 41 32

System Integration Project

This past year, LFM-SDM and UTC embarked on a new educational venture. UTC has identified 11 core capabilities that the corporation believes must be strengthened across all the business units for UTC to remain competitive in the next century. For each capability, UTC will partner with a university that can deliver the highest quality education to its workforce in each of these areas. UTC proposed that LFM-SDM serve as its partner for one of these competencies-Systems Engineering. UTC believes that much of the current SDM curriculum addresses many of the required capabilities needed for systems engineering that they have identified as important across the UTC business units.

The project team has segmented the educational process into four target populations-a group of experts enrolled in the SDM program, a second group of experts enrolled in UTC-MIT's Systems Integration Certificate Program, the managers/facilitators of the experts, and implementers/doers. A holistic approach recognizes that each target population is part of a larger whole and tries to identify the critical points and people in a process where new knowledge must be applied.

The project team identified the certificate program as its priority, and a pilot class of 12 students will begin the new certificate program starting fall 2001. It is expected that this project will not only provide the Institute with an important experiment in lifelong learning, but will also solidify a higher level of enrollment by UTC employees in the regular SDM program.

Distance Education Delivery

As MIT's premier degree program offered at a distance, SDM has recognized its leadership role at the Institute regarding the practice of distance education and is in a process of evaluating its delivery with the goal of increasing the quality of the remote-learning experience while reducing costs.

Specific distance education accomplishments include:

SDM will continue to explore effective ways of making course materials available to distance students.

William C. Hanson

More information about the System Design and Management Program can be found online at

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