Asee peer logo

Are Engineers Also System Thinkers? Bringing Up Holistic And Systematic Decision Making In Engineering Through A Systems Centered Educational Framework

Download Paper |


2007 Annual Conference & Exposition


Honolulu, Hawaii

Publication Date

June 24, 2007

Start Date

June 24, 2007

End Date

June 27, 2007



Conference Session

Cognitive and Motivational Issues in Student Performance II

Tagged Division

Educational Research and Methods

Page Count


Page Numbers

12.252.1 - 12.252.17



Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Gretchen Molina University of Puerto Rico-Mayagüez

visit author page

Gretchen Molina is a student of Industrial Engineering at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez. Her research interest relates to evaluating the acquisition of engineering skills in undergraduate education. She is also an officer at the student chapter of the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers and of the INFORMS.

visit author page


Asmaa Idrisu George Mason University

visit author page

Asmaa Idrisu is a Systems Engineering senior at George Mason University in Fairfax, VA. A native of Nigeria, Asmaa is interested in how systems thinking (or the lackof) has affected large engineering problems.

visit author page


Alexandra Medina-Borja University of Puerto Rico-Mayaguez

visit author page

Dr. Alexandra Medina-Borja is an assistant professor at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez and Director of the International Service Systems Engineering Lab. Alexandra holds a Masters and Ph.D. degrees from Virginia Tech in Industrial and Systems Engineering. Alexandra holds an undergraduate degree in Production of Materials Engineering from the Federal University of Sao Carlos, in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Her research interests are systems thinking, systems dynamics, service operations, performance measurement using DEA, evaluating success factors in engineering and the cognitive processes that occur during its acquisition.

visit author page


Amelia Marian West University of Timisoara

visit author page

Amelia Marian is an instructor of Psychology at the West University of Timisoara in Romania. Her research interest is in cognitive processes to enhance adult education.

visit author page

Download Paper |

NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

1 Are engineers also systems thinkers? Bringing up Holistic and Systematic Decision-Making in Engineering through a Systems-Centered Educational Framework

Abstract Engineering is design, analysis and synthesis. Analytical and systematic skills have been emphasized as one of the most important professional abilities for the XXI century. Hence, the need for instilling in engineering students those skills has been reinforced (e.g. ABET’s A-K required outcomes for accreditation). But how math and engineering courses in fact promote the acquisition of those skills is still not clear. One tool developed to assess people’s understanding of basic systems concepts is the systems thinking inventory, STI. The STI has been used with different populations of students in different countries. The results have consistently shown that people have poor understanding of systems concepts. We also propose for as a topic for further research that the problem might reside in the educational framework commonly used in the engineering classroom and propose that more research on the system-centered approach is needed since it requires an increased emphasis on teacher’s contributions as learning facilitators. We present the results of applying two of the STI tasks, to sixty-eight Industrial Engineering undergraduate students whose level range from 4th to last semester before graduation. It is hypothesized that students in the last semesters of IE training would have a better understanding of system dynamics. The results with controls of gender, high school of origin, and English language proficiency will be discussed.

Index Terms – Systems thinking evaluation, engineering education outcomes, skills assessment, industrial engineering, systems-centered framework

I. Introduction Recently, problems with organizations, structures, and society that have a huge technological component alert us to the fact that there is a growing gap between the nature of our problems, our ability to solve these and understand their consequences in the future. It is also a truism that the world has evolved from a simple setting to a very complex socio-technical system of systems and information networks. Cascade effects of our problems are increasing faster than we can handle and it is time for us to develop new strategies and methods to resolve these issues. Engineering education has since tried to cope with this change by addressing complexity with specialization. More and more humans, and therefore engineers, are becoming specialized in narrow areas of knowledge (e.g. services, health care, disaster relief, nanotechnology, biotechnology, transportation, airport security, optimization to name a few. This constant changing context and the accelerated development process of engineering practice highlights some discontinuities and shortages in the engineering specializations. Few cases in point can provide us with enough substance for explaining the importance of having a holistic view of engineering problems. Looking back at cases that could be deemed infamous engineering flaws, such as the Tacoma Narrows Bridge disaster in Washington in 1940, the failure of the levees built in New Orleans in 2005, the

Molina, G., & Idrisu, A., & Medina-Borja, A., & Marian, A. (2007, June), Are Engineers Also System Thinkers? Bringing Up Holistic And Systematic Decision Making In Engineering Through A Systems Centered Educational Framework Paper presented at 2007 Annual Conference & Exposition, Honolulu, Hawaii. 10.18260/1-2--1494

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: © 2007 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