When Engineers Learn to Lead, Things Really Start to GEL

June 2017
Topics: Human Resources Management, Education and Training (General), Systems Engineering, MITRE's Systems Engineering Role
MITRE and Northeastern University are working together in developing the next generation of engineering leaders—ones who can guide teams to create and implement solutions to our nation's toughest technical challenges.
The GEL team

Engineering isn't just about math, science, technology, and computers. It's also about working with people to get things done. But that's hard to learn in a classroom. That's why MITRE works with colleges to develop the engineering leaders of the future.

Here's a prime example. MITRE has a decades-long partnership with Boston's Northeastern University to help educate and train young engineers through MITRE's co-op and intern programs. In recent years, we've also partnered with Northeastern University's Gordon Engineering Leadership (GEL) Program to develop a new generation of engineering leaders. MITRE has staff participating in the program as students, mentors, and advocates.

The GEL curriculum consists of coursework, an industry-focused challenge project—usually company or organization-sponsored—and supplemental leadership development activities. Each candidate also is assigned a Gordon Mentor (an industry expert or leader in their field), an advocate from their company, and a Northeastern professor. Upon completion of the program, participants earn a graduate certificate in engineering leadership and the title "Gordon Fellow."

Three MITRE engineers—Tom Cashavelly, Jenn Forsyth, and Francisco Ramos-Carrizosa—can attest to the value and benefits of participating in the GEL program.

A Chance to Experience End-to-End Project Management

Cashavelly, a software engineer, first came to MITRE as a Northeastern co-op student in 2010. He returned to the company full-time after graduating in 2011. Eager to further his education, he began working on a master's degree in computer systems engineering at Northeastern the following year. Northeastern then approached him about adding in the GEL program.

Honing the specific engineering leadership capabilities that he uses in his day-to-day work became a big benefit. "I found that it's important that your challenge project be part of your regular work—something to which you can apply the leadership skills that you are developing."

"My GEL challenge project was a software prototype for a web-based command and control system for airspace management that I'd been working on here at MITRE," he says. The project gave him an opportunity to manage the prototype's development to the finish line. That meant everything from formulating the initial design requirements to deploying it to the end user.

And while applying his newly acquired leadership skills was important, so was the opportunity to work with his Gordon Mentor and his MITRE advocate. "It's something you're highly engaged in," he says. "You're constantly learning from your Gordon Mentors, your MITRE advocate, and from other participants. I would absolutely recommend the program to other engineers."

Communicating and Connecting Across Disciplines

Jenn Forsyth is an electrical engineer who joined MITRE in 2011. She completed the GEL program after finishing her master's degree in electrical engineering at Northeastern.

"When I first attended a GEL information session, it was clearly a unique program," she says. "It focuses on leadership rather than management, but it has a technical course requirement as an underpinning."

Her challenge project sought to identify ways to improve long-range radar tracking of ballistic and orbital objects. It was directly related to her day-to-day work for MITRE's government sponsors. At the time, she was providing systems engineering support for the maintenance and modernization of our nation's ground-based phased-array early warning radars.

Forsyth's key take-away from the GEL program was improved communication skills. "I connected across several different organizations [government, academia, and industry] to carry out the research for my challenge project," she says. "I found that it's not just about doing excellent technical work. You must be able to explain it clearly and show why it's important to our sponsors. That's what ultimately makes an impact."

For her, the GEL program was an invaluable experience—one that strongly correlates with MITRE's mission. "It teaches you how to connect across disciplines to deliver unique solutions to tough problems."

Demanding—but Worth It

MITRE's Francisco Ramos-Carrizosa is a mechanical engineer and a current GEL participant. He came into the GEL program with bachelor's degrees in both mechanical engineering and business administration. He will complete his master's degree and his work as a Gordon Fellow this year.

His challenge project came from MITRE's internal research program. It focuses on developing a prototype 3D-printed phased-array antenna and integrated circuitry that could be built and deployed quickly in the field. He's investigating what needs to be developed to make the technology workable and user-friendly.

"The program is very rigorous and demanded everything of me last semester," he says. "But I've noticed real differences in how I manage my project work." Now he finds himself being more analytical about how to keep projects moving forward in a timely manner. He also appreciates the collaboration opportunities he's had within the program.  

Leadership Development Skills a Priority

As the not-for-profit operator of seven federally funded research and development centers, MITRE recognizes the need to provide not only technical expertise to our sponsors but also the leadership necessary to develop and implement innovative engineering solutions. It's an integral part of MITRE's professional development benefits.

Having our staff participate in the GEL program at all levels—as students, mentors, and industry advocates—strengthens our long-standing collaboration with Northeastern. It also helps develop a new generation of engineering leaders who are equipped with the skills needed to tackle our sponsors'—and our nation's—toughest engineering challenges.

"I am impressed with the caliber of the GEL program, especially in how it cultivates a strong synergy between academic study and real-world application," says Carl Benkley, who was Cashavelly’s MITRE advocate. "It accelerates career growth and develops the 21st century technology leaders our country needs."

—by Kay M. Upham

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