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A “High Touch, High Value” Approach to a Practice-Oriented Systems Engineering Master’s Degree Program for Working Professionals

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Developing Systems Engineering Curriculum, Part II

Tagged Division

Systems Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.126.1 - 22.126.16



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Paper Authors


Michael C Smith University of Virginia

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Michael C. Smith, Ph.D.
University of Virginia
Department of Systems and Information Engineering
Box 400747
151 Engineers Way Road
Charlottesville, Virginia 22904-4747

Currently Executive Director of the Accelerated Masters Program in Systems Engineering at the University of Virginia, Dr. Smith's experience involves teaching, research, and application of a broad spectrum of systems engineering techniques with emphasis on systems analysis, design, and evaluation problems in public and private sector settings. His technical expertise spans applied quantitative methods, strategic planning, technology evaluation, and organizational assessment. Prior to joining the Systems and Information Engineering faculty at UVa, Dr. Smith was as a Senior Scientist at Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC) where, during his twenty-plus years tenure, he led numerous studies and analysis in a variety of application domains, including transportation operations, transportation security, national security, manufacturing, and health care. Prior to his employment at SAIC, Dr. Smith was a member of the Industrial Engineering faculties at the University of Missouri and Oregon State University. Dr. Smith earned his B.S. and M.S. in Industrial Engineering from the University of Tennessee-Knoxville and his Ph.D. in Industrial Engineering from the University of Missouri, Columbia.

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Reid Bailey University of Virginia

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Reid Bailey is an Assistant Professor in Systems and Information Engineering at the University of Virginia.

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A “High Touch, High Value” Approach to a Practice-Oriented Systems Engineering Master’s Degree Program for Working Professionals Graduate engineering education is experiencing a transformation. As engineers and theiremployers place increasing emphasis on life-long learning and professional education, manyinstitutions have developed programs designed to make graduate education more accessible toworking professionals. These programs began decades ago with universities providing access tograduate engineering education through closed-circuit televised courses or physical transport ofvideotaped courses. More recently, engineering schools have expanded their reach by makingcourses available through Internet-based distance learning programs that use both synchronousand asynchronous web-based approaches that can reach students anytime and anywhere Internetaccess is available. These programs provide access to many excellent courses, enabling manyindividuals to complete graduate degree programs who would otherwise be unable to do so. Onemajor advantage of these programs is that they can reach many students at a relatively lowdelivery cost per student; the disadvantage is the lower level of direct interaction betweenstudents and instructors and among students. In 1999, we began offering a unique practice-oriented master’s degree program thatallows working professionals to earn a Master of Engineering in Systems Engineering degree inone year while continuing to work full time. Key features of the program are 1) an accessibleformat that allows students to continue working full-time while completing the program, 2) a“bonded” cohort model of 30-40 students who progress through the program together, 3) use offull-time tenured or tenure-track faculty to teach all courses, 3) course delivery “on-grounds” inUniversity of Virginia academic buildings, and 4) a curriculum that emphasizes classical systemsanalysis and design. With a decade of experience and over 300 graduates, our Master’s Program in SystemsEngineering offers a “high touch, high value” program that provides an integrated curriculum insystems analysis and design in a comprehensive program that includes meals, lodging, books,software and extracurricular activities designed to give students the opportunity to learn in ahighly professional context that encourages learning from peers and instructors and offersextensive support through teaching assistants and program staff. Our alumni describe theprogram as a “life changing experience” that gave them new confidence in their team-basedproblem solving skills and enhanced their effectiveness in dealing with large-scale complexsystems. This paper describes the program structure, curriculum, program delivery concept, andresults, tracing its evolution over the past decade and the impact it has had on the students whohave earned degrees through the program. The paper emphasizes the importance of continuingto offer “high value, high touch” programs to working professionals even while simultaneouslyexpanding access to graduate education through Internet-based programs.

Smith, M. C., & Bailey, R. (2011, June), A “High Touch, High Value” Approach to a Practice-Oriented Systems Engineering Master’s Degree Program for Working Professionals Paper presented at 2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Vancouver, BC. 10.18260/1-2--17296

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