Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program

The GEL Program is the Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program. It’s a one or two year sequence for undergraduates at MIT. And basically the purpose is to supplement MIT’s excellent technical education by teaching the leadership skills that are important when someone goes out into industry or for that matter into academia or any organizational structure where your success depends not only on what you know, not only on what you do with what you know but how effectively you can interact with the organization in order to make things happen. We feel very strongly that you can learn about leadership in classroom, but to effectively develop your skills at leading teams, projects, and programs you should do that immersively on the playing field and that’s the environment that we’ve set up in our Engineering Leadership Program. When you’re a student working on homework, whether its a paper or a p-set, you’re getting a lot of theoretical knowledge and even when you’re working on projects for classes you’re getting a lot of practical knowledge as well. But when you get to industry you first experience working on a team, on a large-scale project that needs to be delivered on time, within budget and to specification. You’re working with a team: you’re working with people, you’re working for people, and that’s a new experience for a lot of MIT graduates. MIT students are very strong technically, but maybe not so strong when it comes to communication. So these skills are something that are absolutely critical for not only engineers but people across the board here at MIT. And its cool that the GEL program allows you to gain these skills so that when we go out into the field, and into our jobs or internships, or whatever we’re up to next, we see that we have the skills to tackle what we’re up against. And its neat that a program like this, at MIT, allows you to do that. Students apply to the program. They are voluntarily doing this in addition to their regular academic curriculum, so it’s an academic overload. The one-year program is simliar to a concentration. Participation in the two-year program is similar to that of a minor. The program has its own curriculum. It consists of four different academic classes and is also buoyed by hands-on, immersive engineering leadership labs; it is the experiential component of the program. So in the Gordon program we take these students and we put them in positions where they’re actually leading a group of their fellow students. From the very first lab first year students are assigned to a team. They’ll be a member of that team for the entire semester. They’ll get opportunities to formally lead that team. They’ll also get an opportunity to be a team member to participate in the stages of team development. That team will be coached by a second-year student that will formally assess the performance of the first-year students. And by the end of the program you’ll notice a difference in how your team works together and how you are both as a follower leading from within, and as the set leader for your group. In the eight years we’ve been doing the program its been remarkable watching the emerging leadership and the development of each student. From timid, shy, introverted student when they enter the program. To confident, take charge, support the team from below, capable, effective leader that is ready for industry. And year, after year, after year we get feedback from our alumni that are saying the very things they practiced week over week in GEL are the very things that are propelling them to early career success in industry. I remember when I was in GEL several times it crossed my mind, where I was like, “Of course communication is key. Of course communication is vital.” You always want to be in sync with your teammates. But it didn’t really click to me until I started working full time. GEL has helped me the most in a sense of followship as well as leadership. And the topic comes up a couple times in GEL where its leading from below. There’s a lot of times, definitely starting as an intro software engineer, where before I probably would have kinda sat in front of my computer, pushed my code and moved on to the next day. Where now, because of GEL, I pay a lot more attention to our system of organization, how our leaders are leading as well as what are some ways I can learn from that and make myself a better developer, leader and person in the work force. My big thing at MIT has been impact. How can I make an impact and leave a legacy here. And GEL has been my way to do that. I’m forming and shaping this program so that years of students to come can benefit from it as I have. We have students in industry who come back recruiting for their companies and they specifically come back recruiting other GEL students because they and their company recognize how valuable the GEL program has been. MIT has a great motto, which is actually part of the culture, “mind and hand”, “mens et manus” combining theoretical knowledge with he actual practical ability to use that knowledge in the world. I like to think that in the Gordon program we’re taking that even a step further by talking about: how do you actually apply that in the world? What are the issues that it takes in terms of organizational skills, teamwork, working together with other people? Essentially it’s, who’s mind? Who’s hand? What kind of a person actually is the most effective at taking that knowledge and taking that ability to build things and combining it in order to make products that make a difference in the world.

7 thoughts on “Gordon-MIT Engineering Leadership Program

  1. … You guys aren't recruiting for a sinister plan that will come into fruition after a nuclear apocalypse, are you? And maybe shortening the name to just 'Institute'?

  2. The real world involves working with a divergent group of others – some of whom may have goals and objectives that are divergent from yours. Just because that which you are advocating is "correct", others may not see it that way. Even if you were in the top 10% of your class, you may very well end up working with someone who was in the top 5% of theirs.

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