MIT Reports to the President 1998-99


The mission of System Design and Management Program is to educate future technical leaders in architecting, 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 MIT's entry into the field of distance education and remains the only degree program at MIT that can be earned primarily at a distance.

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 format 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.

Thomas L. Magnanti, representing the Sloan School, and John R. Williams, representing the School of Engineering, served as the program's codirectors through Fall 1998 when it was announced that Professor Magnanti would assume the position of dean of Engineering effective January 1, 1999. The subsequent departure of Dean Magnanti from SDM became a catalyst for the consolidation of SDM with the Leaders for Manufacturing (LFM) Program, another master's level program offered jointly by the School of Engineering and the School of Management. In March, LFM codirectors–Paul Lagace (Engineering), Steve Graves (Management), and Bill Hanson (Industry)–along with John Williams assumed leadership of both programs. In June, Thomas Kochan from the Sloan School also joined the combined enterprise with the rank of codirector to fill in for Steve Graves' upcoming sabbatical.

On June 4, 1999 SDM's–and MIT's–first distance education degree-granting program graduated its first full class. Thirty-two students attended the commencement ceremony to receive their degrees. The graduating class includes 14 employees from UTC and six from Kodak, as well as employees from ITT, HP, Lockheed Martin, IBM, Fidelity, Elcotel and Aerospace Corp.

In January 1999, SDM admitted its third class, enrolling 47 students. An additional 57 students admitted in 1998 continued in the program, with one 13-month student from the January 1998 class graduating in Spring 1999. In all, 18 companies sponsored students, including four sustaining enterprise companies: United Technologies Corporation sponsored 13 students, Ford Motor Company sponsored 12, Xerox Corporation sponsored 7, and Eastman Kodak sponsored 1 student. Other sponsoring companies include: GTE, Polaroid, Delphi Packard, Comicrom (Chile), Fidelity Investments, U.S. Navy, IBM, United Space, B.F. Goodrich, Gemcorp, Fuji Xerox, and Intel.

SDM Student Statistics

















Research assistant




Distance education




Company sponsored




*One self-supporting student obtained a Research Assistantship that began Summer 1999.

Although the total number of students admitted to the program in January 1999 was down from the previous year, these numbers in part reflect the inability of students accepted into the Research Assistantship option to obtain assistantships. A sizeable number of students (10) were accepted last year but deferred matriculation until January 2000.


SDM admitted the third class of 47 SDM students. Thirty students from the 1997 distance education program for new careers in systems and 2 thirteen-month students from 1998 class have graduated. All 1997 students have now graduated and thirteen students have successfully parlayed their SDM education into new positions in their companies. These promotions occurred either while they were in the SDM program or after graduation. The Program Office has begun the process of exit interviews with this group of newly graduated students. The program has continued to support an SDM student council to work on student concerns and issues that are unique to the SDM program. Student council initiatives this year included planning for the International Business Trip and changing the format of the on-campus Business Trips to include more speakers in a seminar format.


SDM continues the development of the three core subjects in system architecture, system engineering, and system and project management; adding distance learning engineering and management electives for the spring term in Technology Strategy and Product Design and Development. The program added specially adapted half-semester summer session courses for Summer 1999, including System Dynamics, System Dynamics in Practice, and TQM. Funds have been made available through CIPD for curriculum development. ITT has provided a $100K grant to SDM for curriculum development through PD21.


SDM developed a staffing plan in concert with the Leaders for Manufacturing program that incorporates the sharing of staff resources. SDM and LFM began sharing four staff positions, a Communications Coordinator, a Financial Administrator, a Financial Assistant, and an Admissions and Placement Coordinator in FY1999, as a first step in establishing enhanced administrative coordination. Although sponsored SDM graduates will return to their companies, unsponsored graduates will typically seek new careers in systems engineering and product design. LFM offered placement services to all non-sponsored SDM students, resulting in one SDM graduate finding employment through this process at Pratt & Whitney. SDM is leading an effort to replicate the SDM product development track at other universities to help them develop and introduce an SDM-like program. Together with Ford, IBM, ITT, RIT, UDM, the U.S. Navy, and Xerox, SDM and CIPD have formed a consortium called PD21: The Education Consortium for Product Development Leadership in the 21st Century, to disseminate the product development curriculum to other universities.


The faculty have substantially adapted other courses for the distance education medium of multipoint videoconferencing to as many as 15 simultaneous company sites. With minor support from an SDM student, KJ Ryan, an employee of Lotus Development Corporation who has an SDM fellowship, SDM has developed the COMMAND system, which has been running since January 1998, to support distance education courses on the web. Collaborating with Lotus on the 3rd release of the system, we have incorporated video streaming. Release 2, scheduled for the end of July 1998, was in final testing at the end of the fiscal year. COMMAND also supports the PD21 product development courses at Rochester Institute of Technology and University of Detroit Mercy.

Consolidation with Leaders for Manufacturing Program

LFM and SDM have consolidated their administrative resources to provide a more holistic approach to the Total Enterprise and to better serve our stakeholders. Accordingly, two joint hires have been made. These include Lois Slavin, (1/4 time for ESD, 3/4 time for SDM-LFM) and Jeff Shao, Finance Manager, LFM-SDM.

For the combined enterprise, Jonathan Griffith, will assume the role of Director of Partner Relations, Sarah Shohet, will be SDM-LFM Admissions and Placement Coordinator, and Constance Emanuel will be SDM-LFM Communications Assistant. Further staff consolidation is planned for FY 2000.

The position of Director of Fellows (SDM) was created to mirror the position held by Don Rosenfield in LFM. The position, which reports to the LFM/SDM co-directors, has primary responsibility for the overall SDM program and involves both administrative and teaching responsibilities within the SDM program. Dennis Mahoney, a retired captain in the Navy (engineering duty) was hired to serve in this new position and will begin his employment as of August 1, 1999.

SDM has already benefited considerably by its association with LFM. Processes already established by LFM have been adapted to SDM, including exit interviews with graduates and greater emphasis in the admissions process in collecting data for determining profiles of successful SDM students. Additionally, the Operating Committee and Governing Board for LFM have agreed to assume oversight of the SDM program, and will begin the process in FY2000 of bringing advocates for both programs onto these boards.

This past year SDM through the efforts of the Director of Finance reviewed and revised the SDM budget, income, and expenditures for the program since its inception to determine the program's financial status. At the request of the Provost's Office, the Program codirectors have proposed changing the SDM financial model from one in which the program collects its own tuition and pays its faculty and staff from this revenue to one in which the program is mainstreamed with the rest of Institute and operates from an Institute budget. (The codirectors met with the dean of the School of Engineering and with the associate dean of the Sloan School to present this proposal for feedback. The Provost asked for a resolution of this situation by the end of the Summer 1999. The program codirectors feel that this mainstreaming of SDM is an essential step for its long-term stability. As of this writing, the proposal is still under discussion.)

John R. Williams, Thomas A. Kochan, Bill Hanson, Steve Graves, Paul Lagace

MIT Reports to the President 1998-99