Systems engineering becomes newest college department

Sega, Gendron, and Grigg at the Sega Farewell Reception
Ron Sega, co-founder and former director of the systems engineering program, speaks with Tom Gendron, Chairman of the Board, CEO and President of Woodward Inc., and Neil Grigg, professor of civil and environmental engineering and an associated systems engineering faculty member, at Sega’s farewell reception in May 2019.

For over a decade, the systems engineering program has given students and researchers the tools to address the immense complexity of modern engineering problems. Through interdisciplinary research and education, the program has grown into one of the highest ranked in the nation.

On July 1, the next era of the program began as the Walter Scott, Jr. College of Engineering welcomed the new Department of Systems Engineering into the college.

A sophisticated new engineering department

The first 10 years of the program showed immense growth in reputation and enrollment. Ron Sega, the program’s first director, helped found the program with strong industry support — especially from the Woodward Corporation — and it has seen steady growth since its early classes.

Starting from initial classes in Sega’s small office, the department has grown to 210 active students and 36 associated faculty through the spring 2019 semester. The success of the program’s Ph.D. in systems engineering led to a No. 1 ranking for online doctoral engineering degrees in 2019.

Encouraged by the program’s reputation and growth, David McLean, dean of the college, said it was time for the program to become a department.

“Over time we’ve added students and faculty, and we’re now at the point where it makes sense for this to be a standalone program,” McLean said. “I’m confident in the success of the program moving forward, they have a lot of momentum and will continue to grow.”

Systems engineering joins seven other departments and schools within the college, and the program will continue to work across disciplines to find innovative and realistic solutions for the most complex engineering problems facing the world. Collaborative and pragmatic team‐based research is essential to those solutions, as is finding students motivated to ask the most interesting questions.

Complex challenges ahead

The fast-growing department faces a combination of student and faculty challenges, said Tom Bradley, named interim department head after Sega took a leave of absence in June.

With increased admissions, the department will need another full-time academic advisor to support the goals of the program and to improve the experience for faculty and students. Bradley would also like to see more students and faculty associated with the program across campus, and to integrate additional disciplines.

“Students realize the professional and intellectual benefits of the systems engineering skill set,” said Bradley, “while our industry and government partners gain a workforce that is ready to engineer modern technical and cross-disciplinary systems.”

Making it easier for working professionals

The program worked closely with industry partners to find an innovative balance of education and workload for professionals with busy schedules. Online courses offered through CSU Online make it easier for professionals to graduate on their own time no matter where they are in the world, which is a distinct advantage for attracting new students.

Online coursework also helps meet some of the other program challenges, including controlling costs, and can lead to greater integration with other programs across campus.

“The program is unique in its ability to serve the needs of both off-campus professionals and on-campus students,” said Bradley. “Our faculty and staff are committed to innovating ways to bring CSU’s education and research excellence to a broad and highly qualified student body.”