Asee peer logo

An Introductory Course in Practical Systems Engineering

Download Paper |


2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Atlanta, Georgia

Publication Date

June 23, 2013

Start Date

June 23, 2013

End Date

June 26, 2013



Conference Session

Aerospace Division Technical Session 2

Tagged Division


Page Count


Page Numbers

23.181.1 - 23.181.6



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Michael A. Swartwout Saint Louis University

visit author page

Dr. Michael Swartwout is an assistant professor of Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering at Saint Louis University. His research is on the design and operation of low-cost, capable space systems. He has sponsored many student-built space projects, with two due to launch in 2013 and 2014.

visit author page


Sanjay Jayaram Saint Louis University, Parks College of Eng.

visit author page

Dr. Sanjay Jayaram is an associate professor in the Aerospace and Mechanical Engineering Department of Saint Louis University. He obtained his Ph.D. in Mechanical Engineering from University
of Central Florida in 2004. He teaches control systems/mechatronics, space systems engineering, and astronautics related courses as well as engineering sciences courses. He has published several peer reviewed journal and conference papers in these areas. His research areas are space systems, robust fault tolerant control, nonlinear control, adaptive control, small spacecraft design, high performance spacecraft components, mechatronics, real-time health monitoring, and diagnostic methodology.

visit author page

Download Paper |


An Introductory Course in Practical Systems EngineeringAbstractGood systems engineering is essential for the effective design, fabrication, testing and operationof complex systems such as spacecraft. However, teaching good systems engineering toundergraduates is often viewed as either impossible (because it must be developed in real,professional settings) or impractical (because it requires sophisticated tools that are best coveredat the Masters level). While we do not dispute that becoming a good systems engineer requiresyears of practical experience and solid technical fundamentals, we believe that undergraduatesare capable of learning some of the fundamental tools and applying them to relevant projects.We have developed a two-semester course sequence for entry-level engineering students (i.e.freshmen and sophomores). The first semester is a 2-credit course, consisting of a 1-creditclassroom lecture and a 1-credit laboratory element; the second semester is a 1-credit laboratorycourse. The classroom portion is a seminar-style presentation of systems engineering tools suchas requirements flow, work breakdown structures, design drivers, trade studies and riskassessment. For the laboratory portion of both semesters, the students apply these tools inongoing student-led space projects: high-altitude balloon experiments, microgravity tests and aseries of student-built spacecraft. We believe that blending a subset of systems engineering toolswith small but real-world, achievable missions will give them practical experience.In this paper, we will review the typical approaches to giving students hands-on projectexperience: informal clubs, participation in national competitions, paid internships and course-based projects. We will assess the strengths and shortcomings of these methods, motivating ourapproach to the course. We will provide an outline of our two-semester space projects course andthe specific objectives it will meet. We will review the results of the course to date, and provideshort-term assessment of the courses' usefulness.

Swartwout, M. A., & Jayaram, S. (2013, June), An Introductory Course in Practical Systems Engineering Paper presented at 2013 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition, Atlanta, Georgia. 10.18260/1-2--19195

ASEE holds the copyright on this document. It may be read by the public free of charge. Authors may archive their work on personal websites or in institutional repositories with the following citation: © 2013 American Society for Engineering Education. Other scholars may excerpt or quote from these materials with the same citation. When excerpting or quoting from Conference Proceedings, authors should, in addition to noting the ASEE copyright, list all the original authors and their institutions and name the host city of the conference. - Last updated April 1, 2015