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NASA's Peter Panetta has always wanted the opportunity to do graduate work at MIT. However, at this point in his career, it appeared unlikely.
Mr. Panetta already has two master's degrees in electrical and mechanical engineering and is now micro/nanosatellite program manager at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, leaving little time for him to return to school. But with a long list of NASA awards to his credit and 15 years of experience at Goddard, he's just the kind of leader NASA wants to educate with a systems perspective.
NASA's new association with MIT's Leaders for Manufacturing (LFM) and System Design and Management (SDM) programs will enable Mr. Panetta and others to enroll in SDM's 13-month, on-campus SM program while remaining NASA employees, in what NASA and MIT plan as a joint venture in educating future systems leaders at the space agency.
"SDM's 13-month on-campus program will enable me to take full advantage of MIT's resources, as well as quickly return to Goddard with the kind of systems perspective that I'm interested in," said Panetta. "I expect SDM to be quite challenging, but very rewarding as well."
Sponsored jointly by MIT's School of Engineering and Sloan School of Management, SDM (which debuted in 1997) offers students an opportunity to simultaneously acquire engineering depth and management breadth, with an emphasis on systems design and new product development. It offers two graduate-level options: a 24-month off-campus, videoconference- and web-based distance-learning curriculum in which students attend six short sessions and one semester on the MIT campus; and a 13-month on-campus program. Both options lead to an SM degree in engineering and management.
NASA envisions SDM as the core element of a three-year program for its best and brightest engineers that will eventually alter its leadership structure. Employees complete their courses and theses using one of the two SDM options, and an additional year is spent back at NASA working rotational assignments and attending workshops, seminars and lectures. It's part of a major educational commitment from NASA and a new educational model for training future technical leaders.
"We consider this to be a critical program for NASA's future exploration and research capabilities," said Ed Hoffman, director of the NASA Academy of Program and Project Leadership. "We've been working with MIT since last summer to make this happen, and we're really excited about the benefits we see for NASA and our employees."
"When NASA announced this leadership program involving graduate study at MIT, I jumped at it," Mr. Panetta said. "I've always been greatly interested in attending MIT. Its premier reputation in engineering and technical management speaks for itself."
Earlier this month, he joined more than 50 other students, including seven NASA colleagues, for an intensive, one-month session on MIT's campus to begin their studies in SDM's systems education. Other SDM students include employees from Ford, United Technologies, Xerox and Kodak.
The January SDM session has become a kind of boot camp for new SDM students. They participate in two design challenges, attend an intensive series of lectures and workshops, and complete an entire course in "Organizational Processes" and one-third of "System Architecture." (Along with "System Engineering" and "System and Project Management," the latter is one of three SDM required systems courses.) Students will also participate in team-building/leadership training off campus and a one-and-a-half-day seminar on "Appreciative Learning."
"I've attended other universities where classmates felt they were constantly competing with each other. Talking to SDM students gave me a feel for the collaborative nature of this environment," said Mr. Panetta.
A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on January 26, 2000.