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Establishing a Non-traditional Systems Engineering Program

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2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access


Virtual Conference

Publication Date

July 26, 2021

Start Date

July 26, 2021

End Date

July 19, 2022

Conference Session

Systems Engineering Division Technical Session 1

Tagged Division

Systems Engineering

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Paper Authors


Jon Sticklen Michigan Technological University

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Jon Sticklen is a faculty person at Michigan Technological University in the departments of Engineering Fundamentals in the College of Engineering, and in Cognitive and Learning Sciences, College of Sciences and Arts. While Chairperson of Engineering Fundamentals (2014-2020) he lead the department to design, implement, and field an upgraded first-year engineering program based on enhanced active learning in a project and problem based environment. The instructional model developed is a flip-classroom delivery model featuring a cohort of near-peer mentors. This instructional model has been shown to be scalable with classrooms now at Michigan Tech in first-year engineering at a capacity of 120 students. Dr. Sticklen also was a prime mover in establishing a new option under the generalist BSE major in engineering for systems engineering. Enrollment has grown from 0 in 2017 to 17 today. More broadly, over the last twenty years, Dr. Sticklen has pursued engineering education research focused on early engineering with an emphasis on hybrid course design and problem-based learning. His research has been supported by many companies, as well as by NSF/CISE, NSF/DUE and DARPA. Specifically, his research in DBER-based engineering education has been funded by NSF/DUE and NSF/CISE.

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Natalie Green Michigan Technological University

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Natalie Green is a current graduate student at Michigan Technological University in the accelerated MBA program. In Spring 2020 she graduated from the brand new systems engineering program at Michigan Tech with a Bachelor of Science in Engineering including Minors in Systems Engineering and Business. Ms. Green also has been a peer mentor in the LEAP (LEading with Academic Partners) program for systems engineering classes for 3 years as both an undergraduate and now as a graduate student. Following the completion of her degree in May 2021, Natalie will be working for a large automotive manufacturer as a Manufacturing Engineer. She is passionate about combining business and engineering and enjoys assisting with the systems engineering program and seeing the continued growth of both the program and its students.

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In 2010, one of the authors of this abstract, while a faculty member as wrote the following lead paragraph in an ASEE abstract submission.

“The Journal of Engineering Education, in a special 2005 issue subtitled The art and science of engineering education research, emphasized a recommendation drawn from the National Academy of Engineering report The Engineer of 2020: ‘engineering education should be revitalized to anticipate changes in technology and society, rather than lagging behind them.’ Structural change does not come easily even to a profession that sees new technologies displace old ones on an ongoing basis. To maintain the historically competitive advantage of the engineering workforce in the United States, our undergraduate engineering programs must have the ability to change to meet societal needs.”

In 2018, the above paragraph still rings true, but with more urgency than eight years earlier.

In the XXX Technological University College of Engineering, we have an opportunity to bring to maturity an agile engineering education program that builds an integrated engineering experience on the foundations of engineering, physical and social sciences, business and the humanities, and a core program of systems dynamics-based, low fidelity modeling that is focused on developing deep and applicable systems thinking across a broad range of possibilities. Our Systems Engineering program is embedded in a generalist engineering degree program that allows for other defined pathways to degree. This generalist program is an ABET accredited degree program, under the ABET general criteria. One role the generalist degree program fills in our is to act as an incubator for other engineering degree programs. It is the incubator for what we believe will “hatch” as a Systems Engineering major within 5 years as enrollment grows.

In many ways our Systems Engineering curriculum is distant from the norm of other Systems Engineering programs. The unique character of the curriculum arises because of a planned outsourcing of most courses of the degree program. In segments of the curriculum focusing on engineering, natural science, and business, care was taken at each step to select coursework that involved systems. The span of these systems ranges for forest ecology, to cellular biology, to electrical engineering circuits, to biological signal transportation in a BioMed course, to ... These courses are scattered across the university but when coupled with the systems modeling kernel taught in , the students see an emerging picture that underlies the importance and utility of systems thinking and dynamic systems modeling.

Our curriculum model enables envisioning our Systems Engineering program as a core set of competencies followed by student-selectable cognates. This model of a “commons” followed by specialization to prepare directly for the workplace is one that may be relevant for other programs given the current pressing need for engineers who can bridge the specific disciplines of engineering while also being able to apply sound business principles.

A key part of our paper will survey undergraduate systems engineering programs to test the wide spread view that there are two dominant version of systems engineering programs: one that emphasizes “systems thinking and low fidelity modeling” and a second that emphasizes the most established sub-disciplines of systems engineering, e.g., requirements engineering, quality engineering, and ... We conjecture (at this point) that the variation of systems engineering program is not one or the other polar opposite but rather that systems engineering program will fall on a continuum between those two poles. On that continuum, our program is nearer to the “systems thinking and low fidelity modeling” pole.

Sticklen, J., & Green, N. (2021, July), Establishing a Non-traditional Systems Engineering Program Paper presented at 2021 ASEE Virtual Annual Conference Content Access, Virtual Conference. 10.18260/1-2--37096

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