Adding to CSUDH’s growing list of master’s level programs, the new Master of Science in Systems Engineering is officially up and running. The fall 2020 semester is the first for the new cohort-based degree program, which aims to fill distinct industry needs in the South Bay.
A partnership between the College of Extended and International Education (CEIE) and the College of Natural and Biological Sciences (CNBS), the M.S. in Systems Engineering becomes the first engineering degree offered at CSUDH. According to Associate Professor of Physics Antonia Boadi, who took the lead in shepherding the project through the approval process, the idea for the degree originated in a series of fact-finding meetings between local industry leaders, former CSUDH President Willie Hagan, and former Provost Ellen Junn.
“President Hagan and Provost Junn talked to several workforce partners and said we were thinking of establishing our first engineering program at CSUDH,” says Boadi. “They asked which discipline was most needed, and where there was a deficit. The businesses said, without question, their main need was in systems engineering.”
CNBS Dean Philip LaPolt agrees that the program fills a distinct need. “This program was developed in response to national and regional workforce needs,” he says. “It’s preparing our students to take jobs and leadership positions in high-demand, high-paying engineering areas. It reflects our mission to provide transformative experiences to our students that really help them and their families, while serving their communities by meeting workforce needs.”
Systems engineering is a unique branch of engineering, one that extends its reach into any business or industry involved in managing complex systems. Broadly, systems engineering concerns the design and management of large systems and projects, regardless of the specific discipline or industry. The NASA Systems Engineering Handbook adds that “Systems engineering is a way of looking at the ‘big picture’ when making technical decisions.”
Or, as Boadi puts it, “Systems engineering touches everything – the defense industry, communications, NASA, homeland security, healthcare. It straddles many disciplines.” As such, the new major has attracted students with undergraduate degrees in everything from biology to economics.
The curriculum has been designed with workforce impact in mind. When industries were asked what they would like to see in a systems engineering program, “They wanted our curriculum to mimic the conditions in industry,” says Boadi. “That’s why we do not have midterm exams. Instead, we have engineering design challenges, so at the end of the program, students will have developed a portfolio of projects.”
Drawing upon case studies, methodologies, and tools from several engineering industries, the program is designed to expose students to real-world systems engineering problems. Students will access case studies within their industries and complete their degree with a culminating project that prepares them for complex, real-life projects. Because the program is cohort-based, students all take the same courses each semester. The first such cohort started on their degree path this fall and are expected to graduate in 21 months.
In developing the program, one of the driving factors was the need to keep the courses affordable. “It was important that we made this program accessible,” says LaPolt. “There are other similar programs locally, but we wanted to create a more affordable program for a broader spectrum of students.”
Creating the program as a partnership between CEIE and CNBS has helped keep the costs for students down, according to CEIE Dean J. Kim McNutt. “We’ve been able to make it very affordable,” he says. “By making it a partnership, where it lives academically in CNBS and CEIE handles the marketing, registration, and most of the administrative side of things, we’ve been able to keep the actual tuition costs down. It’s another great example of a university partnership, working together to help our students.”