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MIT student blogger Maggie L. '12

How to “Teach” Leadership by Maggie L. '12

Please find the probability that Shakespeare diffuses into my GEL classes given that my schedule is so random

As we’ve already seen, tests can really throw a curveball into one’s schedule. Luckily for me, my classes are unique enough that I don’t spend hours upon hours of basically the same material each night. This semester, I’m taking Genetics, Heat and Mass Transfer, Introduction to Acting, and two classes for the GEL Program. Mine just might be the most random schedule out there.

Tests introduce a whole new variable in time management because you could always argue that you’re not done studying. Fortunately, my classes for the GEL program are relatively free of curveballs when it comes to tests. Now that I’ve settled into my courses, I thought I’d tell you about the GEL classes that I’m taking this semester.

15.668: People and Organizations (9 units)
(mentioned earlier by Jenny!)

The 9 units mean that this course is a slightly smaller time commitment than the standard 12-unit MIT class. At the beginning of the semester, I heard there would be a midterm, but this wasn’t a deal-breaker for me. The midterm was a few weeks ago, and asked us to apply some of the concepts we learned in class to real case studies, such as the merger between US Airways and America West. Now that we’ve gotten past our only test in the class, we’re working on an individual paper about an organization of our choice and group paper about any organization’s response to an important situation (How did company A react when it developed budget cuts? What did company B do when a piece of legislation was passed?).

This is my first course 15 (Business) class, and definitely stands out from all my other classes this semester. Not only does it challenge students to think outside the “p-set zone,” it helps us think in different ways than we would in our engineering classes. Our readings have covered contingent labor, evolving trends in the workplace, strategic design in an organization’s structure, and case studies on real companies that look at the cultural, political, and organizational elements that set it apart from other companies. Plus, we’ve practiced our negotiation skills in three different scenarios.

It seems that the majority of students in this class are either course 15 minors or GEL students. Also, it takes place in the new Sloan Building, so it’s nice to get out of standard lecture halls and TEAL classrooms (although it is quite a walk from my classes along the infinite corridor).

The class is broken into several table groups that discuss class topics and work on projects together throughout the semester. For example, in October the class looked at BP and the summer’s oil disaster. Some groups are focused on the cultural, political, or organizational elements of BP as a company, one looked at BP’s technical background, and another facilitated the discussion. This way, we tackled a huge topic as a class while learning about specific areas of the situation.

ESD.05: ELL—Engineering Leadership Lab (3 units)

I have to admit, I was pretty excited when I signed up for ELL. I had visited two sessions last spring when I was considering the GEL Program, and I was most impressed with the focus on hands-on activities and constant feedback on performance.

The ELL is a two-hour class on Fridays, so it’s also a nice end-of-the-week session because the last thing I want after a week of lectures is a lecture on “how to be a leader” or “the definition of success.” Instead, we’re building bridges out of office supplies, watching videos portraying engineering leaders in action, and competing against other table groups in GEL-pardy (a game of Jeopardy that reinforces the many requirements of the GEL program).

Our homework for ELL includes a self-evaluation of our performance in an ELL activity and a feedback form for the GEL year two students (students in their second year of the GEL program who help lead the ELLs), so they can monitor what’s worth repeating next year and what can be improved upon. The three units mean that this is not a huge time commitment at all.

My hope for these classes is that, while I gain the engineering skills in my Chemical Engineering major, I learn how to work with others who may or may not share my technical background. By looking at various organizations and their engineering structure and evaluating my own leadership skills, these classes should give me a well-rounded introduction to engineering leadership.

6 responses to “How to “Teach” Leadership”

  1. Zuney says:

    So were you working with people from non-engineering background? Who exactly are the people without the “technical background”?

  2. Great to know that the course load at MIT can be pretty small depending on how you pick your classes.

  3. mag says:

    Hey Zuney! So, all GEL students are engineering majors, but in 15.668 we’ve looked at several situations where engineers and management come into conflict and have to resolve some situation. Also, in ELL we’ve done some role-playing with these relationships.

    One of the requirements for the program, called the Engineering Practice Requirement, is to participate in a realistic-scale engineering project that includes collaboration with people from different disciplinary backgrounds (business, law, etc) and diverse backgrounds (i.e. not people from research intensive institutions such as MIT).

  4. Zuney says:

    Do you have to make a commitment to the GEL program? i.e. can you take those courses w/o participating in GEL?

  5. mag says:

    It kind of depends. The ELL is hosted by the GEL program, so students in that class are all GEL 1-Year (juniors or seniors in their first year of the program) and 2-Year students (seniors in their second year).

    Just to clarify, you can apply in your junior or senior year to the 1-Year Program, but if you apply as a junior you have the opportunity to move up to the 2-Year Program when you’re a senior. The difference is in the requirements (
    http://web.mit.edu/gordonelp/gelyearonerequirements.html vs. http://web.mit.edu/gordonelp/gelrequirements.html )

    Anyway, like I mentioned earlier, 15.668 is not GEL-exclusive. Some course 15 minors have to take that class, too, but it’s definitely open to all undergrads!

    Other GEL classes I’ll be taking in the next few semesters, with the hope I continue to the 2-Year Program, include ESD.052: Project Engineering, a workshop for Project Management that takes place over IAP and ESD.051J: Engineering Innovation and Design, a seminar about project design open to MIT undergrads, with a preference for juniors and seniors.

    Oh, and as if this comment isn’t long enough, I should also say that ESD stands for Engineering Systems Division, which hosts classes that cover engineering, management, and social sciences http://esd.mit.edu/default.htm

  6. Zuney says:

    alrighty thanks! Sounds like an exciting program