Remya Pushpangatha Kurup, SCM Class of 2016
Remya Pushpangatha Kurup, SCM Class of 2016

The Massachusetts Institute Technology: it’s the ultimate destination for anyone who wants to specialize in the field of science, at times a formidable goal to achieve. As I journeyed across the Atlantic to be a part of a select group who would become the Class of 2016 of the SCM program, it was not without a tinge of nervousness. A cloud of apprehension hung over us as we met with our classmates on August 11th at the Thirsty Ear (one of the pubs within the MIT dorms). It was to be a slow realization for us that it was the start of a challenging yet fulfilling year, the beginning of a camaraderie that would turn into a tight-knit group of 38.

First Meeting at the MIT SCM Lab and Beer game

Beer Game
Playing the Beer Game on the first day of orientation.

August 13th: We all got together in the MIT SCM Lab. As we were introduced to each other, it was a humbling and amazing realization to see the wonderful diversity and varied experiences that the group brought to the table. This truly was a great value-add to the program, complementing the classroom session with anecdotes and experiences that the crowd had to share on different aspects. I was truly amazed at the diversity of the class, with people from 14 different countries, with varying backgrounds ranging from military, industries, political science, to humanitarian logistics and NGOs. We have a submariner, sailor, football maniac, Himalayan trekker, and a few entrepreneurs in the class.

After introductions, Bruce Arntzen, the SCM Program Executive Director, announced that we would be the “SCM family.” It is competitive to get into the program, however inside the program, we would be a team, helping each other to ensure that every one of us would succeed. The same concept is solidified throughout the orientation program (and especially later during Thompson Island’s Outward Bound team-building exercises). The same day, we were introduced to the Beer Game (before you get your oversized mugs out, there is no actual beer involved!). We were all excited at the prospect of playing the game at the very same place where it originated in 1960’s. The game, an effective demonstration of the challenges in managing supply and demand, gave us insights to the skills and abilities we needed to develop over the next year. We ended the day with a welcome BBQ, giving us the opportunity to socialize again with the group and its family members.

Thompson Island’s Outward Bound Program

Blindfolded and learning to trust your team at Thompson Island.
Blindfolded and learning to trust your team at Thompson Island.

The theme of the activities during the program was “challenge by choice,” meaning that students were encouraged to participate, but the level of participation was based upon how much they chose to challenge themselves. And it was up to us to decide how much we stretched ourselves, physically and mentally, on the tricky exercises. In a way, it reflects the soul of the SCM program.

In the first half of the day at Thompson Island, we were split into multiple groups and assigned challenges. It was a well-designed exercise that trained us on voicing our opinions, listening to other team members, and collaborating to achieve team targets. Initially the teams struggled, but gradually picked up on the team dynamics. We found innovative ways of solving problems and overcoming challenges. The blindfold game, as much fun as it was, was a great lesson on building trust with the team.

The second half of the day was more physically challenging; awaiting us were a set of climbing towers. As our teammates climbed, we belayed them by holding the end of the rope and making sure that safety mechanism was locked and unlocked at the right time so that they could climb up. “You have your partner’s life in your hands,” as our group instructor told us. Some people made it to the top, others climbed to heights they could not have done without the constant encouragement from their fellow teammates. The exercise helped us develop trust within the group, which has proven invaluable for the rest of the journey here at MIT.

"You have your partner's life in your hands," our instructors told us during the afternoon of climbing at Thompson Island.
“You have your partner’s life in your hands,” our instructors told us during the afternoon of climbing at Thompson Island.

Academics During Orientation

"Drinking from the fire hose," is the common saying around here for good reason.
“Drinking from the fire hose,” is the common saying around here for good reason.

The month-long orientation period was tough and challenging for most of us. MIT challenged us with its analytical rigor and quantitative focus. The orientation period is about equipping you with the tools you need to master (math and data analytics) throughout the rest of the year. Groups of SCM folks, huddled together, struggling on their daily assignment, was a common sight in all the dorms during this period. The select few who had programming backgrounds were much sought after and achieved celebrity status during this time! Orientation was literally a period of drinking from the fire hose. For those of us who had not yet figured  our their boundaries of exertion, it was a good chance to discover how much we could stretch ourselves to accomplish in a day.

Fun that Never Ends

Our friendships and feeling of family was reinforced in parties and night outs in Boston and Cambridge. All through the first months of the program, pretty much every other day was a “free food day” at one of the dorms. BBQ days, beer parties, dance nights, movies and pizzas filled every spare hour we could find. Meanwhile, Ping-Pong emerged as the “sport of the batch” with frequent tournaments and even a “Match of the Century” between two of our batch mates. Hanging out with classmates at the numerous clubs in Boston was a quick way to let off steam and enjoy this journey. The orientation period set the perfect stage and started us off in the right gear for the year at MIT SCM.

The SCM Class of 2016 Family.
The SCM Class of 2016 Family.

2 thoughts on “Beginning of a Momentous Journey

  1. Thank you for the information, it was useful. Only one question: When you write, “tools you need to master (math and data analytics)” . Can you give more detail?

    1. Thanks for the comment. The one month orientation period helps refresh some of the basic calculus, probability and statistics, which we need throughout the program. There are also sessions in which we learn advanced excel functions for data analysis, optimisation tools such as linear/integer programming and visualisation tools like Tableau.

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