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SMA - The Singapore-MIT Alliance

The Singapore-MIT Alliance

SMA classroom: synchronous distance education

MIT has long sought to establish programs that expand its research and educational reach while maintaining its focus as a residential research university. To strengthen its reach as well as the global outlook of faculty and students, MIT launched the Singapore-MIT Alliance (SMA) in 1998 with the goal of setting a new standard of international collaboration in graduate science and engineering education and research.


The Singapore-MIT Alliance is an innovative engineering education and research collaboration among three premier academic institutions: MIT, the National University of Singapore, and the Nanyang Technological University. SMA promotes global education and research in engineering and the life sciences through distance education and collaboration technologies. In the first phase of this program ("SMA-1"), MIT faculty co-taught five, new graduate engineering programs with Singaporean counterparts. Students in this program received Masters and Doctoral degrees from the Singaporean universities along with SMA certificates. Their research work was co-supervised by MIT and Singaporean faculty.

In July of 2005, "SMA-2" was formally launched. SMA-2 offers graduate programs in advanced materials for micro- and nano-systems, chemical and pharmaceutical engineering, computational engineering, manufacturing systems and technology, and computation and systems biology. For the first four academic programs, students will be able to earn dual degrees – either a Master's degree from MIT and a Master's degree from the Singaporean university, or a Master's degree from MIT and a PhD degree from the Singaporean university. For the computation and systems biology program, students will be able to earn a PhD degree from the Singaporean university, with joint thesis supervision involving an MIT faculty member. All students will spend at least one semester in residence at MIT.

To participate in the program, students apply separately to MIT and to the appropriate Singaporean university. If admitted independently to both MIT and the Singaporean university, students may apply for an SMA Graduate Fellowship. This fellowship provides full tuition and fees, stipend, housing allowance when in residence at MIT, and travel to and from MIT and Singapore.


To meet SMA's goals, MIT created state-of-the-art synchronous and asynchronous distance education facilities. Today, despite the fact that 9,000 miles separate the endpoints, SMA achieves seamless instruction across 12 time zones with a voice delay of less than a second between classrooms in Cambridge, MA and Singapore.

A typical SMA class looks like many other MIT classes; instructors prepare course materials such as presentations, lecture notes, and announcements and put them on the Stellar class website, MIT's course management system. But in an SMA class, students interacting with instructors, each other, and class materials are actually spread across the globe.

At MIT, a technician working in a production pod connected to the master control room captures video through the "camera/video link," which consists of cameras in the classroom trained on the presenter, students, chalkboard/whiteboard, and documents. A "computer link" (T.120) shares all computer-based materials such as PowerPoint slides, animations, simulations and other software used by instructors. Digitized videos of class lectures are offered in dual stream mode, which allows synchronized viewing of electronic presentations that accompany the lecture. The digitized class session is then archived on the Stellar website for later review.


The SMA program boasts 227 Professional Masters graduates and 21 Master of Engineering graduates from the Singapore universities. The program is considered to be a source of top-notch engineering talent, with companies such as Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, Philips Electronics, Singapore Airlines, Apple Computer, and Dell hiring SMA graduates in their Singapore locations. Although about 75% of SMA graduates stay in Singapore upon graduation, SMA alumni include engineering leaders from China, India, Vietnam, Australia and other nations who combine academic excellence in the engineering sciences with the entrepreneurial spirit and a global outlook.


Tony Patera

Anthony Patera is a Professor of Mechanical Engineering at MIT, a Co-Director of the Singapore-MIT Alliance (SMA) and Faculty Fellow of the SMA Programme in High Performance Computation for Engineered Systems. He formerly served as a Co-Director of the MIT Supercomputer Facility.

Prof. Patera has undergraduate and graduate degrees in Mechanical Engineering and a doctorate in Applied Mathematics, all from MIT. He has published over 100 publications on scientific and engineering computation, computational methods and numerical analysis, parallel processing, and optimization.

He has received national research awards such as AIAA, as well as internationally with the Lombardy Academy of Arts and Science in Milan, Italy. He also has received a number of teaching and education innovation awards at MIT. Prof. Patera has also developed fluid dynamics simulation software – the NEKTON code – used widely in universities, government laboratories, and industry. He is a long standing member of the Defense Sciences Research Council.

Steve Lerman

Steven R. Lerman is the holder of the Class of 1922 Distinguished Professorship at MIT. He is the Director of the Center for Educational Computing Initiatives (CECI), the research unit of an MIT-wide research center devoted to studying the application of computational and communication technologies to teaching and learning. He is the author of two books and numerous journal articles.

From 1983 to 1988, Prof. Lerman directed MIT's Project Athena. This project developed a campus-wide distributed system of advanced computer workstations at MIT. Athena's facilities span the entire MIT campus, providing computational support for the MIT curriculum.

Since joining the MIT faculty in 1975, Prof. Lerman has served as the Chair of the MIT faculty, the Head of the Transportation Systems Division and the Head of the Intelligent Engineering Systems Laboratory.

Professor Lerman serves as the Deputy Director of the Singapore-MIT Alliance and chairs the Faculty Advisory Boards of both MIT OpenCourseWare and the Academic Media Production Services group. He is a member of both the Management Board of the MIT Press and the Board of Directors of Cambridge Systematics, Inc.

He received his Bachelors, Masters and PhD degrees from MIT in 1972, 1973 and 1975. His undergraduate degree is in Civil Engineering, and both his graduate degrees are in the area of transportation systems. He was appointed to the MIT faculty in 1975, and he is now a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering. In 1994 Prof. Lerman was also appointed as a Professor II at the University of Bergen in Norway. He has been a Visiting International Professor at the Universidad Gabriela Mistral in Santiago, Chile since 1993. He served as Associate Chair of the MIT Faculty in AY97-98, as Chair-elect in AY 98-99 and as Chair from 1999 to 2001.

Tony Patera
Steve Lerman
Massachusetts Institute of Technology
77 Massachusetts Avenue, Cambridge, MA 02139-4307
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