Asee peer logo

Lessons Learned from a First Attempt to Teach Systems Engineering as a Studio Art Class

Download Paper |


2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Tampa, Florida

Publication Date

June 15, 2019

Start Date

June 15, 2019

End Date

June 19, 2019

Conference Session

SED Technical Session: Instructional Experiences

Tagged Division

Systems Engineering

Page Count




Permanent URL

Download Count


Request a correction

Paper Authors


Kirsten A. Davis Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Kirsten Davis is a doctoral candidate in the Department of Engineering Education and a master's student in Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech, where she also completed her master's degree in Higher Education. She is the graduate assistant for the Rising Sophomore Abroad Program, a global engineering course and study abroad program for first year engineering students. Her primary research focuses on the design and assessment of global engineering programs, but she also studies the development of systems thinking and innovative thinking skills in engineering students. Before returning to graduate school, Kirsten worked for several years as a project manager and analytics engineer in the transportation industry.

visit author page


Alejandro Salado Virginia Tech Orcid 16x16

visit author page

Dr. Alejandro Salado is an assistant professor of systems science and systems engineering with the Grado Department of Industrial & Systems Engineering at Virginia Tech. His research focuses on unveiling the scientific foundations of systems engineering and using them to improve systems engineering practice. Before joining academia, Alejandro spent over ten years as a systems engineer in the space industry. He is a recipient of the NSF CAREER Award, the Fabrycky-Blanchard Award for Systems Engineering Research, and the Fulbright International Science and Technology Award. Dr. Salado holds a BSc/MSc in electrical engineering from Polytechnic University of Valencia, an MSc in project management and a MSc in electronics engineering from Polytechnic University of Catalonia, the SpaceTech MEng in space systems engineering from Delft University of Technology, and a PhD in systems engineering from the Stevens Institute of Technology. He is a member of INCOSE and a senior member of IEEE and IIE.

visit author page


Thomas A. McDermott Stevens Institute of Technology

visit author page

Tom McDermott is Deputy Director of the Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC) at Stevens Institute of Technology. He previously served as Director of Research and interim Director of the Georgia Tech Research Institute, and before that had a successful career in the aerospace industry for Lockheed Martin. While at GTRI he led a period of successful growth that doubled GTRI's revenues and impact, and led the creation of GTRI's cybersecurity, systems engineering, and autonomous systems research programs. His Lockheed Martin career culminated as the F-22 Raptor Avionics Manager where he led the team to Raptor 4 avionics first flight. He leads research and teaches in the areas of engineering leadership, systems thinking, and socio-technical enterprises.

visit author page

Download Paper |


Systems engineering is often described as both an art and a science, yet courses on the subject are often structured like traditional engineering science courses. Prior studies have explored the principles and practices that are common between systems engineering and major artistic endeavors and suggested that systems engineering courses could build upon this connection. In prior work, we described an approach for teaching systems architecture using methods from a studio art class, including classroom set-up, lesson structure, and course structure. This paper is the follow-up study to this proposal, in which we have implemented the proposed course format in an introductory course for graduate students in systems engineering. The studio art format was used in the second half of the semester to teach topics including problem formulation and system architecture.

The purpose of our study is to compare student performance on a course assignment between the new format and the traditional format used in prior years. Our study focuses the first major assignment in the course: identifying stakeholders, developing a concept of operations, eliciting stakeholder requirements, and deriving system requirements. Specifically, students start with an open-ended, vague need. The instructor then plays the role of any stakeholder that the students want to interview to formulate the problem. The same assignment has been used two years in a row, so the only shift was in the teaching method used in the course. We developed a rubric based on good practices for problem formulation that included the following dimensions: accuracy in reflecting the actual needs of the stakeholders, level of completeness (absence of major gaps in the problem formulation), and absence of unnecessary constraints. We scored seven assignments from each year (sample selected due to available participants). Multiple researchers scored each assignment separately and then discussed the ratings together to reach a final consensus. We use both a quantitative comparison of rubric scores and qualitative comparison of assignment content to summarize the similarities and differences in assignment performance between the two years. Our results provide insights into the benefits and challenges of using a studio art format in a systems engineering course.

Davis, K. A., & Salado, A., & McDermott, T. A. (2019, June), Lessons Learned from a First Attempt to Teach Systems Engineering as a Studio Art Class Paper presented at 2019 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition , Tampa, Florida. 10.18260/1-2--33059

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: © 2019 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