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Katy O’Brien, SDM ’12: the power of engineering and management

Katy O'Brien, SDM '12
Katy O'Brien, SDM '12
Photo: Kathy Tarantola Photography

Katy O’Brien, a member of the MIT System Design and Management (SDM) cohort that matriculated on Jan. 4, 2012, holds a BS in mechanical engineering from Tufts University, with honors. Upon graduating, she spearheaded two research and development projects for implementing innovative methods to resolve inefficiencies in composite material manufacturing. She then moved on to the nuclear power industry, where she won an award for modifying nuclear power systems to improve their safety and reliability. Now a product engineer at Draper Laboratory, O’Brien was inspired to continue her professional development and hone her management skills by pursuing graduate studies. After considering traditional MBA programs, she chose MIT's SDM Program because of its unique combination of engineering and management.

O’Brien said that one month into the program, SDM’s interdisciplinary focus has already helped her hone the essential management skills of collaboration and leadership, while allowing her to simultaneously expand her technical capabilities.

“I wasn’t sure how my own work experiences would coalesce and how I would contribute to SDM as a member of the cohort,” she says. However, the first design challenge took care of her concern.

“The assignment required our team to construct and program a moving, talking robot,” she says. “My engineering experience enabled me to provide mechanical design input, while I collaborated with my teammates, whose code brought the bot to life.”

O’Brien said that the breadth of her SDM classmates’ accomplishments and the diversity among industries was immediately apparent. Her design challenge teammates represented an array of impressive and diverse backgrounds: a senior communications engineer from The MITRE Corporation, a technical staff member of IBM Research Labs, a commander in the U.S. Coast Guard, a PhD candidate in aeronautics, and a lead consultant at CARSA of Mexico. O’Brien said that this experience in team dynamics will serve her well at Draper, where navigating interdisciplinary teams is essential in her work as a product engineer and her assignments include, among others, fostering partnerships among colleagues working in unmanned aerial vehicles.

When the time arrived for final presentations, each team was required to introduce itself to the entire cohort by preparing a presentation, which "inevitably included dancing, singing and skits," she said. "It became clear to me that every team member was a key contributor, both technically and creatively. I continue to be impressed not only by the technical prowess of my classmates, but also by the creative and collaborative skills that have emerged in everyone throughout the design challenge. ... I'm incredibly lucky to be at SDM."

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