I’ve decided I talk too much. I need to give some other people a chance, which is why I’ve been reaching out to others in the GEL Program lately for these blog posts.
So when two friends in the GEL program told me they’d like to help with an entry, I decided to go all-out and get some video up in this blog. Joe ‘12, Kevin ‘11, and I met up to talk about GEL, IAP, MIT, and any other 3-lettered abbreviations we have in common.
First, we’d like to introduce ourselves. Please excuse the rather, um, low lighting.
Off camera, we talked about questions that prospective students or students interested in the GEL Program might ask, and we wrote our responses so that you can get several points-of-view on the same topics.
Why did you apply to MIT?
Joe: I knew I wanted to study electrical engineering, and MIT is fantastic for that. The general ethos I got from meeting with some professors (who I would go on to take classes from) was also very appealing.
Maggie: I actually had a phase in high school where I thought I would never apply to MIT because I thought I wouldn’t “fit in” to such an engineering-focused institution. But I love Boston. And I loved my interview with my MIT EC. And I loved how Mystery Hunt was going on during my visit to campus. And I loved how people seemed to have true passions in what they did, whether that’s in programming or wooden roller coaster construction. I also loved that I could be on an athletics team or involved in a school newspaper with fellow engineers and scientists, not stereotypical “jocks” or students that don’t put academics first. And now I can’t imagine myself anywhere else.
Kevin: So, I visited schools the summer before senior year, and MIT really stood out to me. I have to admit – the academics seemed pretty daunting, but when I visited what really stood out was the culture. From the hackers scaling buildings under cover of night to the labs creating craziness in general, there really seemed to be a culture of ‘It doesn’t exist? Why not? Let’s do it!’ And that – I found really inspiring – the idea that you can really do something with technology was awesome.
I was told that learning to think like an engineer would be really useful and I’ve always enjoyed building things / tinkering with projects, so MIT seemed like a great fit. Also – I’ve long had an interest in entrepreneurship. So, basically my criteria was: awesome engineering school where people do / there’s a good environment for startups. MIT fit the bill and has really, really been both of those things for me.
How did you find out about the GEL Program?
Joe: At the suggestion of a friend of mine, currently a GEL2, I looked into the program and applied.
Maggie: My advisor actually recommended it to me. The fact that someone personally brought up this opportunity made it seem like it was a good thing for me to explore.
Kevin: I found out about GEL through some juniors and seniors that I knew in the program. I think I may have seen a flier, but I really don’t remember. What I saw also was some of my peers who were working on really solid projects and really learning how to lead were also applying. Knowing that I’d get to interact with awesome peers in a way that was outside classes really drew me to the program.
Why did you apply to GEL? What attracted you most?
Joe: GEL seemed different than most leadership programs – programs that I frankly have little respect for, because they seem to conflate giving a pep talk and a pamphlet with training in leadership or management. The program, like MIT as a whole, places a large emphasis on experience and actually doing things. The [Engineering Leadership Laboratories, or] ELLs, and ESD.950 experiences Maggie talks about are not unusual or uncommon experiences highlighted to make the blog more interesting (well, maybe the LEGO airplanes are. Most of the time we don’t get to play with my childhood toys) – rather, they are the fundamental components of the program and the courses that comprise it. That “learn by doing” philosophy is probably the program’s biggest selling point.
Maggie: I have a good friend in the program who’s also a chemical engineer and I think that whatever she does is cool so I followed suit. I sat in on an ELL and was really impressed with everyone’s energy. People came right up to me and introduced themselves, and I thought These are the kinds of people I want to work with. The staff, too, is very committed to its students. They seemed to make the students more confident in their abilities.
What surprised you about the GEL Program?
Joe: It actually challenged me. Most of my classes have definite answers – with enough time and reasonable diligence, every problem set has an answer. Sure, you can vary your assumptions or the specific method you use, but at the end of the day you’re arguing over degrees of rightness. Not so in dealing with people and projects. I was surprised by the level of thought and rigor that you can put into everyday interactions, and more importantly, how large of an improvement you get from doing so.
Maggie: It’s the first time I look forward to working in a group. Everyone applied to this program, and so we all aspire to develop the capabilities of effective leadership, and group work goes hand in hand with these capabilities. I trust that fellow GELs will respect deadlines and deliver quality results.
Kevin: What surprised me about GEL, though I suppose it’s probably a pre-requisite for entering the program, was the idea that you could actually learn how to be a better leader through practice. Like skills learned at MIT, it’s NOT something you’re born with.
In addition, the simulations in GEL are something I have taken outside to more ‘real’ decisions. In starting my own company in college (doing laser-etched business cards) and starting a music club, I saw how much having a solid leader really mattered. Times when I fell short were often not even technical, but rather in terms of leading the team – whether it was providing a clear direction, setting expectations, or really meeting the needs of team members (leadership is definitely a serving endeavor.)
I remember back to a really big product design class; I was supposed to help create a backboard for mountain rescue (see: Fortrus, circa 2009). When I didn’t really step up and demonstrate leadership in terms of getting the materials, my team couldn’t help me build it. As we missed deadline after deadline (really just one of the main important ones), it became clear that we needed to step up. One of the things we learn in GEL is an urgency to act – I ordered the materials – we built it. It was a super-crazy 2 week race to the finish, but we got it done.
Seeing how my classmates in the GEL program have done that in their organizations has inspired me to not let the backboard situation repeat itself, at least with the delays. Because the thing that I expected, but still never fails to amaze me – is how awesome the people I’ve interacted with in the program. They are students who are doing this so that they can really better serve their organizations, both in and out of MIT.
So, in a way, the reasons that I entered have been beyond fulfilled, and though MIT often does that, it was most certainly a pleasant surprise here.
I’ve learned (and will continue to learn) lessons that I will most certainly take into the real world as I endeavor to become a no-holds-barred entrepreneur.
Okay, this is a lot of content, so I’ll be back later to post a video of our conversation about some of our favorite GEL experiences! What a teaser!