MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XXI No. 4
March / April / May 2009
Should One Size Fit All?
Rethinking the Math Core
Tom Kochan New Faculty Chair
Distrust of Educational Innovations
Engineering Excellence in Challenging Times
Leadership Skills for Engineering and
Science Faculty
Interview with Director of MIT Medical
Dr. William Kettyle
Update on the Faculty Renewal Program
Newsletter Adds Two Board Members
The Moral Moment: Departing Words from
the Outgoing Faculty Chair
MIT Faculty Vote to Make Their Articles Openly Available
TA Training Bootcamp Reinforces Curriculum Innovations and Improves Recitation Experience in Freshman Chemistry Course
MIT Faculty Work/Life Website Created
MISTI Launches Call for Second Round of Global Seed Fund Proposals
Laughing Together
West Garage
Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Leadership Program: Developing Engineering Leaders of Tomorrow
The Need for Interdisciplinary Education
MIT 150 Exhibit to Celebrate Institute's
150th Birthday
The Federal Research Dollar
on the MIT Campus
The Future of Medical Care?
Printable Version

Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Leadership Program:
Developing Engineering Leaders of Tomorrow

Edward F. Crawley

In its recent report, The Engineer of 2020: Visions of Engineering in the New Century, the National Academy of Engineering outlined the various fields in which students educated in engineering might go on to be leaders, including research, product and system development, business, and even broader professions. The NAE concludes that:

"In preparation for this opportunity, engineers must understand the principles of leadership and be able to practice them in growing proportions as their careers advance. Complementary to the necessity for strong leadership ability is the need to also possess a working framework upon which high ethical standards and a strong sense of professionalism can be developed."

MIT has a responsibility to its students to prepare them for the roles they will play in life. Our existing academic engineering programs provide a firm basis of disciplinary knowledge and the modes of thought critical to the particular field – principally problem solving and research for engineers – and courses in the humanities and social sciences provide other disciplines with new ways of thinking and experiencing the world.

However, we could do a better job of preparing our students in the broader array of personal and professional capabilities from which they will draw in life, including critical and creative thinking, relating to others as members and leaders of teams, making sense of complex contexts, and creating visions of the future.

As faculty, we’re challenged constantly to mold our students into better thinkers and better communicators. These invaluable characteristics are applicable in all facets of our students’ lives. They will make a future researcher more effective and they will make a future product/system developer more competitive. Beyond engineering, these characteristics are applicable to other roles that our graduates may play in life, including as leaders of society and even members of a family. The challenge, of course, is how we could do more to meet these needs of the students within the time resources of an undergraduate program.

The Bernard M. Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program (Gordon ELP) has been established to develop our engineering undergraduates into leaders in their fields. The Program, launched in August 2007 through a $20 million gift by the Gordon Foundation – the largest gift ever made to MIT's School of Engineering for curriculum development – is co-directed by Joel Schindall, Professor of the Practice in EECS, and myself. Bernard M. Gordon, one of our most distinguished alumni, is the inventor of the analog-to-digital converter, and our first alumnus to win the National Medal of Technology.

The Gordon ELP helps to develop these key personal and professional capabilities by exposing MIT undergraduate engineering students to challenging appropriate conceptual frameworks and models and by repeatedly engaging them in hands-on authentic experiences.

Because it is designed as a program for engineering students, the Gordon ELP contextualizes these traits in the areas where engineers are most likely to benefit, in the professional practice of engineering – the creative innovation, including the design and implementation of new products, processes, projects, materials, molecules, software, and systems, supported by the invention of enabling technologies, that together meet the needs of customers and society.

We also hope to influence other universities and the nation. By educating and developing the character of outstanding MIT students as potential future leaders in the world of engineering practice and development, and endeavoring to transform engineering leadership in the nation, the Gordon ELP seeks to increase and improve significantly our nation’s product development capability, making it a more industrially competitive place in the future.

The program was shaped over the academic year 2007-2008 through extensive benchmarking and consultation within and outside the MIT community. Especially valuable were the inputs and cooperation of others at MIT who help to prepare leaders: the Sloan Leadership Center, the student leadership programs under the Dean for Student Life, the ROTC programs under the Dean for Undergraduate Education, and the diverse design programs in the School of Engineering.

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What emerged was a distributed program with two main themes:

  • The first theme seeks to strengthen the program for all undergraduates in engineering by providing resources and modules to departments in teamwork, project management and project-based learning. These resources are highlighted below.
  • The second theme develops a curricular and co-curricular program consisting of the UPOP program for sophomores, a series of 6 to 9 unit subjects for juniors and seniors, and a weekly reflective Engineering Leadership Lab. Some of these offerings are existing subjects, and some are in development this academic year with a pilot group of 21 juniors and seniors.

One of our collaborators, Tom Kochan, George M. Bunker Professor of Management at MIT’s Sloan School of Management, observed recently: “To me, the Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program rediscovers MIT’s culture of Mens et Manus. It builds on the momentum of many fine departmental educational efforts and represents the kind of education innovation for which MIT has become renowned. It’s also on a scale on which few other peer schools can embark.”

The Teamwork Module: An Example of a Gordon Program Resource at Work

Seeking to impact positively the education of all MIT undergraduate engineering students, the Gordon ELP has created a variety of resources – some of which will help faculty run their project-based learning subjects more smoothly.

For example, frustrated by the inability of some of his freshmen students to work productively in groups of three to build experiments that let them explore principles of electromagnetic energy conversion, Professor Steven Leeb (EECS and MechE, and MacVicar Faculty Fellow) turned recently for help to the Gordon ELP. The Teamwork Module described below played a pivotal role in the success of the teams into which Prof. Leeb divided freshmen in his subject, Physics of Energy (4.A22, 6.A47, and 6.A48), co-taught with Professors Jim Kirtley and Les Norford.

“Essentially all of my teaching centers around engineering design-build-evaluate activities for students. In my freshman seminar we challenge the freshmen to work in groups of three to build experiments that let them explore principles of electromagnetic energy conversion.

“We’ve traditionally handled ‘teamwork teaching’ in an ad hoc way, applauding good results and working to correct problems as they arose. The Gordon ELP Teamwork module was a real step up. It provided a logical framework for engaging the students in developing good teamwork practices that deliver real results in the laboratory without distracting from the technical learning in class. I'm very pleased and I will definitely keep the module in my quiver for future terms.”

Both of the Gordon ELP’s modules – the Teamwork module and the Project Engineering module – were designed for use in project-based first-year subjects, though they can be used in any project-based subject, and can be easily tailored to fit any specific subject. Students can complete the activities either outside of class or during class time.

Meeting Another Need: Real-Time Feedback on Team Effectiveness

Another resource the Gordon ELP is poised to provide will help faculty monitor the effectiveness of teams in their subjects in real-time. In his project-based class, 2.009, Professor David Wallace uses peer reviews several times during the term to give students feedback on their performance in teams. Prof. Wallace developed his own system to generate online peer review forms and to process peer review data once the students have completed their reviews. The system also allows for e-mail to be sent to students with review results and generates nicely formatted Excel-based team reports for instructors.

With some funding from the Gordon ELP, Prof. Wallace is building on the existing code base to develop an online “peer review service” Website that allows faculty or student-run projects to quickly and easily configure and administer team peer reviews. Wizards will guide users through the peer review service.

The system will be offered through the Gordon ELP Website when it is complete ( If you are interested in testing a pilot version, please contact either Diane Soderholm ( or David Wallace (

The Bottom Line: Gordon ELP Offers Valuable Resources

For faculty, the Gordon ELP should be seen as a resource and support organization. We seek to support departmental programs and build a foundation of sustainable project-based learning. We have funds available through biannual calls to support aligned educational endeavors.

Whether you use the Teamwork module like Prof. Leeb, the Project Engineering module, or the Peer Review System being developed by Prof. Wallace, Gordon staff can consult with you about enhancing and/or incorporating engineering leadership skills in your subject. The Gordon ELP can also provide senior Gordon Engineering Leaders to serve in your subject as informal team coaches. Regardless of the module used, the Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program's resources are designed to produce positive educational outcomes and help you run your subjects more smoothly.

For more information about the Program, please visit our Website. For more information about educational resources, contact Diane Soderholm, Education Director at

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