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Patrick Hale, former executive director of MIT System Design and Management, dies at 72

Hale’s guidance transformed SDM into a world leader in engineering and management.
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Portrait of Patrick Hale, a man with a short goatee and glasses, smiling at the camera.
Patrick Hale served as director of SDM until his retirement in 2016.
Photo courtesy of MIT System Design and Management.

Patrick “Pat” Hale SM ’84, former executive director of MIT System Design and Management, passed away on Feb. 4 at the age of 72 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s disease. Hale oversaw the progression of SDM from a small experiment to a renowned program in engineering and management.

Hale served in the U.S. Navy for 22 years. It was in this role that he first came to MIT, earning an MS in ocean engineering. After leaving the Navy, he pursued a career in the nascent field of systems engineering. At Otis Elevator Co., Hale served as director of systems engineering, incorporating best practices from the area into the product development process. Hale served as an industry stakeholder in this role in the earliest days of System Design and Management. He left Otis in 2002 but continued to work with SDM, fostering the creation of the Graduate Certificate in Systems and Product Development. In 2004, he was named director of the SDM Fellows Program. Hale served as director of SDM until his retirement in 2016.

Over the 12 years that Hale led SDM, the program underwent several significant transitions. At the time of its founding, SDM was attended solely by company-sponsored students selected by their employers for further training that would allow them to become technical leaders within their organizations. In 2005, the program began accepting self-sponsored students who attended without affiliation from a particular company or organization. Hale also guided the evolution of SDM’s approach to distance education. The program began by mailing physical videotapes to students then navigated the early stages of video conferencing. Today’s lectures and recitations are conducted live and using Zoom web conferencing software in a hybrid format. In 2014 the program introduced the integrated core, a three-term sequence taken over the first year of study. The core course combines the three pillars of systems engineering, system architecture, and project management in a spiral that allows students to learn how all three disciplines work together to solve complex problems.

Through this long period of change, Hale was always guided by what would be most beneficial to the students. He enjoyed teaching and often looked for opportunities to participate as an instructor, teaching courses in systems engineering and product design and development. Beyond the broad oversight of the program, Hale was committed to ensuring his students had the best possible experience at MIT. He always had an open door for any student who might need personal, academic, or professional advice. Alumni of the program remember him as a gentle giant who was deeply invested in his students’ success.

"Pat was a compassionate director and a mentor to the students in the program," says Warren Seering, the Weber-Shaughness Professor of Mechanical Engineering and a faculty co-director of SDM. "He was instrumental in guiding SDM from a relatively new degree program to its current status as a strong and competitive one, but he made a point of always being in touch with the students."

In addition to his work with SDM, Hale served in various roles for the International Council on Systems Engineering, including a term as president from 2008 to 2010. In a 2006 interview, Hale explained his view on the importance of systems thinking. "Just as systems engineering is cross-disciplinary, our language and models must converge to bridge domains to facilitate learning and an understanding of what it means to be a systems engineer," he said. "There are many potentially valuable examples of best practice that we fail to share or understand across industries because of this gap in semantics and it hampers both our companies’ success and our ability to teach and develop tomorrow’s systems and product developers. The SDM program is helping to address this vital need."

Hale is survived by his wife Janet; his children, Christopher and wife Ann Hale, Michael Hale, Erin Post, Kerri and husband Kyle Nelson, Christina and husband Matthew Lounsbury, Benjamin and wife Catherine Gasse; Daniel Gasse; sisters Diana and husband Henry, Karen and husband Rush; and several grandchildren, nieces, and nephews. The family asks that donations be made to the Alzheimer’s Association in Hale's memory.

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