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MIT MicroMasters Begins On-Campus Phase

MIT considers its ongoing experiment in "MicroMasters" to be a success. The first cohort of students is expected to graduate this June, earning a full master's degree in supply chain management (SCM) at a much-reduced cost compared to tackling the program fully on campus. Announced in 2015, the program combines months of online work with a shorter period of on-campus courses.

The face-to-face work started in early January, when a group of 40 students from around the world headed to Massachusetts to begin their first residential semester in Cambridge at MIT's campus. All had successfully completed the MicroMasters SCM program through the edX platform. That consisted of five courses, each lasting 13 weeks and requiring eight to 12 hours per week per course. They also had to pass a final capstone exam.

According to MIT, 1,900 students made it through the courses and 622 passed the final exam, qualifying them to apply for the SCM "blended" program. Three-quarters of the current on-campus SCM students come from international locations; 58 percent already have graduate degrees; their average age is 32; and they typically have about nine years of work experience.

Among the students attending on campus are Bonaventure Mulama and Mina Saito.

Mulama's background is in information and communications technologies, and he possesses a degree in computer science from the University of Nairobi. His field, however, is in the humanitarian sector. He has worked with three different NGOs: on earthquake response in Haiti for World Vision International; on drought response in Ethiopia for Concern Worldwide; and on food aid in South Sudan for Joint Aid Management International.

In an article about the program, he said that his decision to enter the program was to build his skills around logistics, "to get a really good grasp of the field I was now involved in." Describing the effort as "pretty intense," Mulama said to succeed, he had to "put aside a social life. I just decided that this was a priority."

Saito, originally from Japan, has worked for DHL as a supply chain engineering manager in Hong Kong, consulting on analytical projects to help customers improve their own supply chain systems. She originally took a free MITx course in supply chain design before discovering the blended program. "Once I learned that its admission process takes online courses into consideration, I thought it was an amazing concept," she recounted. "I was very excited that this opportunity was coming from the best SCM program in the world, so I thought I had to give myself a chance to try."

She noted that her experiences in working with "diverse teams with different backgrounds and experiences, and the network we build in class, will be great assets in the future."

Now, Saito, Mulama and their classmates must pass 36 units of coursework and complete a 12-unit research project to graduate in June. Coursework includes guest lectures from industry experts; field visits to companies, including Walgreens, AB-InBev, AmazonFresh and Boston Scientific; and group assignments.

"They have shown unbelievable commitment," said Yossi Sheffi, founder of both the original residential SCM master's degree program and the MicroMasters program. "You can study on your own things like supply chain analytics. But to be effective in the real world you have to be working in teams. You also need to develop other people-related skills such as communications, leadership and change management. These elements are taught better in a residential context."

The pending success of this program has "spawned" two additional MicroMasters programs at MIT, including one on data, economics and development policy and another on principles of manufacturing.

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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