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Development of a Survey Instrument to Evaluate Student Systems Engineering Ability

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2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Salt Lake City, Utah

Publication Date

June 23, 2018

Start Date

June 23, 2018

End Date

July 27, 2018

Conference Session

Systems Engineering Division Technical Session 4 – Systems Thinking Integration and Systems Engineering Skills Evaluation

Tagged Division

Systems Engineering

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Paper Authors


Diane Constance Aloisio Purdue University

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Diane Aloisio is a PhD candidate in the School of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Purdue University. Her research concentrates on taking a systems approach to finding the common causes of systems engineering accidents and project failures. Diane received a dual BS degree in Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering from University at Buffalo in New York.

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Karen Marais Purdue University

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Dr. Karen Marais' educational research focuses on improving systems engineering education. She is the author of several technical publications, including 17 journal papers and two book chapters. She received an NSF CAREER award in 2014. Dr. Marais has worked in engineering for two decades, first in industry and then in academia. She holds a B. Eng. in Electrical and Electronic Engineering from the University of Stellenbosch, a B.Sc. in Mathematics from the University of South Africa, and an S.M and Ph.D. from the Department of Aeronautics and Astronautics at MIT.

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Hanxi Sun Purdue University

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Hanxi Sun is a Ph.D. candidate at the Department of Statistics of Purdue University. Her research focuses on nonparametric Bayesian statistics and applied statistics. Hanxi received a master degree in Statistics at Columbia University and a dual BS degree in Statistics and Computer Science at Peking University.

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Systems engineering skills are difficult to teach in a university setting. As a result, new graduates may require significant on-the-job-training and experience before they and their employers are confident in their systems engineering skills. For example, NASA developed the Systems Engineering Leadership Development Program (SELDP) to provide “development activities, training, and education” to more quickly cultivate systems engineers. We need better ways of teaching systems engineering, so that systems engineers require less on-the-job training before taking on their roles at their respective engineering companies. A first step in improving systems engineering education is identifying and assessing the strengths and inadequacies in systems engineering education. Here, we propose an approach based on an analysis of the types of errors systems engineers make in practice. In our previous work, we analyzed a large set of systems engineering failures and identified “decision errors” in systems engineering—decisions made before the accident that accident investigators identified as contributing significantly to the accident. We developed eight survey questions based on failures in our dataset, including the Challenger launch decision, the Alaska Airlines flight 261 crash, and the Piper Alpha oilrig fire. We received 47 responses in the Fall 2016 semester and 101 responses in the Spring 2017 semester from undergraduate and graduate students enrolled in Purdue’s Aeronautics and Astronautics department. Our initial statistical analysis indicates that there may be a correlation between a student’s performance in and exposure to systems engineering-related classes and the student’s performance on our survey.

Aloisio, D. C., & Marais, K., & Sun, H. (2018, June), Development of a Survey Instrument to Evaluate Student Systems Engineering Ability Paper presented at 2018 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Salt Lake City, Utah. 10.18260/1-2--30325

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