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MIT-led consortium offers master's degree in product development

An MIT master's degree program for engineers will branch out to two other universities with the help of a $600,000 National Science Foundation grant.

MIT's Center for Innovation in Product Development (CIPD) and its partners at the University of Detroit Mercy (UDM) and the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT), along with the System Design and Management program at MIT, have established a new master's degree in product development at the three institutions.

The NSF grant, which will be awarded over two years, will assist the Center and its partners in their efforts to combine the best ideas and experience of industry, academe and government to advance the theory and practice of product development.

The new consortium, called "PD21: the Education Consortium for Product Development Leadership in the 21st Century," will employ processes of continuous interaction and feedback from its industry partners to ensure quality. Consortium members include the CIPD (an Engineering Research Center), the three universities, the US Navy, and industry partners such as Ford, General Motors, IBM, ITT, Polaroid and Xerox.

The master's degree curriculum, developed initially in the System Design and Management (SDM) program in consultation with industry, leads to a joint degree offered by the Colleges of Business and Engineering at RIT and at UDM, and by the Sloan School of Management and School of Engineering at MIT. Intended to help experienced engineering professionals move into leadership and management positions, the curriculum focuses on the end-to-end product development process, emphasizing the integrated systems perspective needed to conceive, create, launch and support today's increasingly complex products.

"We are grateful that NSF was willing to fund a project that not only cuts across the boundaries of engineering and management disciplines, but also gives substantial support to a collaboration that includes three universities and major industry partners," said Professor Warren Seering, CIPD director. "The PD21 consortium offers a new model in graduate engineering, management and product development education in the US. This curriculum incorporates two powerful streams of information flowing from engineering and management into the curriculum, the latest concepts in product development provided by university research, and the experiences of industry, developed through specialized case studies."

"We see our industry partners as key to PD21's success," added Conger Gabel, CIPD executive director and an executive on loan from Xerox. "The companies provide important customer requirements for the program, real examples, and cases and projects that will enrich student experience. Regular engagement by the faculty with industry has been a rewarding experience for both our companies and the universities."

The curriculum includes core courses in product development leadership, system architecture, system engineering, and system and project management, along with a set of foundation courses that provides both engineering depth and management breadth. Students must complete a project-oriented thesis or capstone project, often based on a problem identified in the companies where they work. Enrollment in the program is open to students from any company with the requisite education and industry experience.

"MIT has identified the conception, design and development of complex systems and products as a central educational and research undertaking," said Professor Thomas Magnanti, dean of the School of Engineering and co-founder of SDM. "We developed the SDM curriculum with extensive input from more than 30 companies to identify the core competencies that they deemed essential for their technically grounded leaders. We believe strongly in the diffusion of the curriculum that the PD21 consortium represents and feel that the partnership with industry, RIT and UDM signifies our commitment to assisting US industry to position itself as a world leader well into the next century."

RIT and UDM officially launched their programs in January with RIT's inaugural class of 21 students from Xerox and ITT, and UDM's class of 32 students from Ford. RIT and UDM offer an executive education format that includes classes over full days or concentrated in evening hours.

MIT, with its unique distance education program that allows students to attend classes by videoconferencing and web technology, enrolled its third cohort of 48 students from 16 companies and the Navy. The next group of students will begin the program in January2000.

Funding from the NSF grant will be administered by CPID and used by consortium members for program and course development. The consortium plans to expand this program to additional universities across the nation.

A version of this article appeared in the May 19, 1999 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 43, Number 31).

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