My Degree by the Numbers

– Jeff Birenbaum (LGO ‘18)

Two teams, 11 unique personalities,
seven months, 14 classes. A return to New England Patriots nation after a
six-year journey where I resided in three different states (and one
district). An opportunity to complete two masters’ degrees in two years
supported by 27 global corporations. Adding to the mix: travel to 22
states and countries while playing on four intramural sports teams.

As
one would expect, MIT students like to characterize everything with
numbers. My experience as a Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) Fellow
thus far has been much more about the people, such as my experience this
past summer with my first-semester team.

First, some background.
The 48 students in our cohort were divided into eight teams of six
students, and each team was responsible for completing projects and
classwork associated with the summer curriculum. The teams were
announced at our welcome reception. We didn’t know how critical it would
be to rely on each other during our first three months at MIT.

Team
6 Möbius (my team): A naval aviator and officer from Texas; an
international energy and policy consultant previously based in China; a
tractor engineer and father from the Midwest; a prior McKinsey
consultant with brilliant energy (and Mario Cart skills); and a
go-getter robotics enthusiast originally from Asia.

At face value,
it almost sounds like a “so-and-so walked into a bar” joke. While the
first semester included regular stops near campus (think Muddy Charles,
The Fields, and Aeronaut Brewery to name a few), the experience of
working on this diverse team through the summer core was truly
exceptional from an intellectual and personal growth perspective.

Before
attending business school, I dismissed the idea that the forced
team-learning environment I was joining could be so practically and
profoundly valuable. I thought that with my few years of experience on
the manufacturing shop floor and in corporate roles had exposed me to
enough different teams to be effective in all settings. I was wrong.
After experiencing the summer core semester with Team 6 Möbius, I
learned more about team dynamics, building and managing professional
relationships, and driving results than anywhere else I had been before.

For
teams at MIT (specifically in the business school), technical skills
are just as important as the ability to convey complex information and
teach your classmates. Students come from a variety of backgrounds. MIT
Sloan gives you a unique opportunity to learn about all industries and
career paths, from development consulting in Africa to finance on Wall
Street. As a result, students here may find they are teaching others
just as much as they are learning from the professors.

Sometimes
those lessons are practical. Our team created an optimization model for
the NY-ISO electrical grid, attempting to model the utilization of New
York power plants according to energy demand based on different
statewide conditions (weather, future potential shutdown of the Indian
Point Nuclear Facility, etc.). Two of our teammate’s experience in the
electrical grid was the basis for the team being able create an accurate
model, but this required sacrifice on their part to teach us the
relevant material so that all teammates could contribute to the final
product. I still draw upon this project in other classes.

And
sometimes those lessons were profound. In one instance, a teammate
confronted me with feedback regarding my propensity to prioritize
efficiency over other others’ learning. In procurement, the name of the
game was agility when it came to completing strategic sourcing projects
and driving cost savings activities.

In the MIT academic
environment, I realized that balancing learning and efficiency was a
critical element of success. Taking time to understand new environments
and my teammates’ wishes is a lesson I will take forward when working in
any team in the future.

Both practical and profound is how I
would describe my first semester at MIT; it has been easy to find
sources of inspiration from other students, professors, and the
community as a whole.

After all, without the people and community
to draw upon, my two years at MIT would be just another four semesters
of classes after 17 years of primary and undergraduate education and 16
years of the Patriots dynasty.

Read Jeff’s full blog post and other MIT Graduate Student Experiences here