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From Cornerstone To Capstone: Systems Engineering The West Point Way

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Developing Systems Engineering Curricula

Tagged Division

Systems Engineering Constituent Committee

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.603.1 - 15.603.16



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Paper Authors


Timothy Trainor United States Military Academy

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Colonel Timothy Trainor (US Army) received his MBA from Duke University and his PhD in Industrial Engineering from North Carolina State University. He received his undergraduate degree from the United States Military Academy in 1983. He is currently the Professor and Head of the Systems Engineering Department at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He has served in various command and staff positions in the Engineer branch of the U.S. Army during a 27-year Army career.

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Daniel McCarthy United States Military Academy

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Lieutenant Colonel Daniel J. McCarthy (US Army) is an Academy Professor in the Department of Systems Engineering at the United States Military Academy at West Point. He has a B.S. degree from USMA in Organizational Leadership and an M.E. degree in Systems Engineering from the University of Virginia. He also holds a PhD in Management Science (System Dynamics) from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. His research interests include systems design, new product development, system dynamics, decision support systems, project management and curriculum development. He has taught and served as the course director for numerous engineering courses in Systems Design, System Dynamics and Production Operations Management. He currently serves as the Deputy Director of the Systems Engineering Program.

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Michael Kwinn United States Military Academy

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

From Cornerstone to Capstone: Systems Engineering the West Point Way Abstract

The United States Military Academy at West Point was established in 1802 and is the nation’s oldest engineering school. West Point is a four-year undergraduate institution that confers bachelor of sciences degrees on all of its graduates who then enter active military service as commissioned Army officers. West Point offers majors programs in several different engineering disciplines as well as in the humanities and social sciences. In 1989 West Point established a Department of Systems Engineering, which administers the Systems Engineering major among other related disciplines. The Systems Engineering program has been accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) of ABET since 1996.

The foundation of the Systems Engineering major at West Point is the Systems Decision Process (SDP). The SDP serves as the overarching engineering thought and design process for the program. Systems thinking and decision making concepts are emphasized in the SDP because our graduates will soon be US Army officers responsible for life and death decisions at a young age. There are four phases to the SDP: Problem Definition, Solution Design, Decision Making, and Solution Implementation. Each phase consists of three key tasks. The SDP is a holistic engineering design process that explicitly considers the many environmental factors that impact the systems being engineered.

The West Point systems engineering undergraduate major is designed to teach and reinforce the SDP. The cornerstone of this program is the introductory course where the students are introduced to the SDP thereby laying the foundation for the rest of the curriculum. Building upon this foundation, the program layers a series of courses that cover basic engineering principles as well as courses that provide the basic tools and methods used by Systems Engineers. Each student also studies a sub-discipline to provide depth in one of a number of areas including human factors, mathematical sciences, simulation studies and information systems.

All Systems Engineering majors at West Point complete their undergraduate education with a year-long design course in which they design a system to solve a real-world problem for a real- world client typically within the Department of Defense. In this capstone experience the students are asked to integrate and use the many tools and techniques they have learned throughout their academic experience at West Point, to include their robust background in humanities and social sciences.

In total, the Systems Engineering curriculum at West Point is designed to provide students with a multi-disciplinary and systems perspective on engineering and decision-making while engaging them in solving real problems for real clients. The West Point Systems Engineering major is one of the few ABET-accredited undergraduate systems engineering programs in the nation and it prepares students well for the uncertain and complex world in which they will live.

Trainor, T., & McCarthy, D., & Kwinn, M. (2010, June), From Cornerstone To Capstone: Systems Engineering The West Point Way Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16588

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