Department of Systems Engineering now home to largest Ph.D. program at CSU

The Systems Engineering program, led by Ron Sega, began in 2007 as a direct response to industry demand for trained systems engineers. Fourteen years later, the graduate-only department is home to 197 Ph.D. students

The story of the department’s growth and success is more than just increasing enrollment. It is fundamentally a story of people working with a shared commitment to innovation and removing barriers to accessing graduate programs.

For Tom Bradley, department head and Woodward professor in Systems Engineering, the department’s growth can be attributed partly to building a dedicated team.

“Having a really great team of people doesn’t happen that often, and so when it does, you have to make investments in the team,” Bradley said. “Our team makes it easy to come to work and do the hard work we do.”

Mary Gomez, program assistant who has been with Systems since the beginning, has been instrumental to the program’s long-term success. When she first joined Systems, she was excited by the idea of starting something new at the university.

“When [Sega and I] used to talk about the future of the program, we dreamed big,” Gomez said. “Nobody really thought we could do it, but we were committed and pushed on.”

Innovation in graduate education

Gomez and Sega’s dreaming big resulted in a program that seeks to change graduate engineering education by embracing online education. This has allowed the department to stay on top of evolving industry needs and changes in adult learning.

Ann Batchelor, assistant professor who joined the department in 2014, attributes its growth to the early decision offer both distance education and on-campus classes.

In 2010, it was projected that in two years, 30 students would be in the program. In reality, 78 students were enrolled.

“The key was having a flexible program designed specifically so students could take classes and still keep their jobs,” Batchelor said. “This allowed us to outdo our projections for five-year growth in two years.”

The program continued to steadily grow and by 2016, 118 students were enrolled. Current student numbers reflect similar growth with 95 master’s, 197 Ph.D., and 22 Doctor of Engineering (D.Eng.) students enrolled.

For Bradley, the number of students in the doctoral program provides only one metric of overall departmental success.

“The charge on us as a program is that when people come to you and say, ‘I want to be educated and work with you’ or, ‘This will help me be a better person or engineer’, you make it happen,” Bradley said. “I fundamentally believe our job is to remove gates to accessing further education and be responsive to student demand.”

As part of this response to student demand, the department continues to grow its number of faculty. Currently, the department is home to thirteen core faculty and 28 affiliated faculty from around the university.

Imagining the next 14 years

When Gomez, Batchelor, and Bradley imagine what the Systems Engineering department may look like fourteen years from now, they still dream big.

Batchelor wants (at least) half a building dedicated to the department. Gomez would like to hold the title of biggest department at CSU. Bradley imagines the department responding more completely to the university mission.

“My goal is that we can succeed on many other metrics of excellence for the university, beyond student enrollment,” Bradley said. “In my mind, these metrics should include departmental service to the community, number of students graduated, research activity, and a steady focus on equity and inclusion.”