2019 Harrison Smith awardee, LGO ’20 Nalaka Kahawatte, reflects on his time at LGO before starting his second year!
Hi Everyone! Nalaka here from LGO Class of 2020.
Growing up in Sri Lanka, I always dreamed about designing and building flying machines: airplanes, rockets, etc. I wanted to someday work for an aerospace company and I feel very fortunate that California State University, Chico gave me a scholarship that made it possible for me to come to the United States and study Mechatronics. Afterwards, I got the opportunity to learn more about factory automation at RobbJack Corporation and while working there, I completed a Masters in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering at University of California, Davis.
Before LGO, I contributed to the NMA and 787 programs as a Lead Engineer and 737MAX as a Controls Engineer, and served as an Acting Engineering Manager at The Boeing Company. It was really exciting and rewarding to work with a team of computational fluid dynamics, thermal analysis and ice protection experts who supported multiple development programs: 777X, KC-46 Pegasus Multirole tanker, VC-25B presidential aircraft, etc.
LGO has been an incredible experience so far! During the first summer, even though it was academically intense, I got the chance to bond with my fellow LGO classmates. It is awesome to be surrounded by such an accomplished, passionate, brilliant, and yet down-to-earth, group of people. They have constantly challenged my perspective and inspired me to get out of my comfort zone and grow as a leader. During the MBA Core, I also had the chance to bond with all my Sloan classmates as the Chant Leader for my Ocean (CARIIIIBBEANS!!), which was a lot of fun.
My main engineering focus area is Supply Chain (within Civil Engineering) and, from the business-side, I love diving deep into the areas of Competitive Strategy, Economics, and Lean Operations. I am wrapping up my internship with the partner company Maschinenfabrik Reinhausen (MR) in Regensburg, Germany, where I focused primarily on business models for electrical power transformer monitoring tools.
Living and working in Germany as part of my internship has been a transformative experience. I loved working with the brilliant Venture Architects team at MR and learning the German language (which is not as easy as I thought, by the way), culture, and history. Every weekend, my family and I explored different beautiful areas in Bavaria and neighboring countries like Austria, Switzerland and Czech Republic.
Balancing LGO with Family Life
My lovely wife is Taniya and we have an amazing two-year old, Ayla. We love spending time with Ayla and she brings us so much joy into our lives. She’s full of energy and she loves exploring. She also loves numbers, the alphabet, jigsaw puzzles and…elevators! Everywhere we go (malls, museums, etc.), we end up spending at least 15 minutes going up and down the elevator while she keeps yelling out the numbers of each floor.
Coming to LGO with a 10-month old baby, I was nervous at first. But the incredible support from my amazing wife makes it all possible. During the semester, I start my day early and get to school around 6AM. That gives me plenty of time to focus on the preparation for classes that day. Between and after class, I spend time on homework and call it a day around 6pm. I try to maintain the same schedule on Fridays even though we don’t have classes. My LGO and MBA teammates have been very accommodating, and we do not schedule any meetings outside of these hours.
This structure has helped me not worry about schoolwork and be fully present when I am at home during the evenings and weekends. You will also learn a lot of Lean tools that can be used to increase productivity not only in Business Operations but also in your personal life.
We lived on-campus for the first semester and it was a very pleasant experience. Westgate complex has a large play area that my daughter and I loved spending almost every evening in. It is also nice that the main recreational facilities (Zesiger Sports and Fitness Center, soccer fields, track, etc.) are nearby and we are excited to take Ayla to swim lessons offered by MIT Recreation during the weekends. There is also an added benefit of on-campus housing when it comes to internship logistics: no penalty for moving out if you choose to do a February-start internship outside of Boston. We will be moving back to Westgate after the internship.
Best Advice I Received
The Boeing Company has an incredible network of LGO alumni and many of them provided valuable advice and insights throughout the process of applying. (Shout out to Laura Bogusch, Adam Marshall, Tom Sanderson, Brandon Gorang and Guillermo Pamanes!). One common piece of advice from all of them was: “It will be the best and most transformative two years of your life, so soak it all in and make the most of every minute, hour, and day!”
It can be nerve-wracking to go back to school full time for two degrees plus an internship in two years, especially if you have to uproot your family and move to Boston. At times, it may seem overwhelming logistically. It was for me.
But know that it will be the best investment you can make in yourself and your family. Take one step at a time and also know that you have an incredible support system here at MIT who will be there for you each step of the way.
I am super excited to go back to The Boeing Company after graduation to help design and build innovative products that Connect, Protect, Explore, and Inspire the world!
If you have any questions about the LGO program, please feel free to reach out anytime: email@example.com.
By Nalaka Kahawatte, LGO Class of 2020