Technical Report: Research on Building Education & Workforce Capacity in Systems Engineering

Report Number: Final Technical Report SERC-2011-TR-008-3

Report Name: Research on Building Education & Workforce Capacity in Systems Engineering

Publication Date: October 31, 2011


Executive Summary

RT-19, Research on Building Education & Workforce Capacity in Systems Engineering, is a research study whose goal is to understand the impact on student learning of and career interest in Systems Engineering (SE) through a set of diverse capstone courses that expose students to authentic Department of Defense (DoD) problems and engage them in learning and practice of systems
engineering. SE Capstone courses were developed and piloted during the 2010-11 academic year (and beyond) in eight civilian universities and six military institutions affiliated with the Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC). The strategic goal addressed by this research is to better understand how differing course designs, structures, materials, instructional practices, and other inputs, such as the involvement of DoD and industry mentors, impact student learning and career interest in SE. This research explored methods and approaches to augment the SE workforce for future DoD and related industry workforce needs in order to inform future investments for the purpose of institutionalizing and scaling up effective methods. This research encompassed a 20-month, three-phase effort from March 1, 2010 to October 31, 2011, including planning, course implementation, and analysis. Institutions were selected for participation through a competitive application process based on a set of criteria developed in consultation with the sponsor, and partners were awarded a subcontract of approximately $200,000 for development, implementation, analysis, and reporting on their SE Capstone project. According to final reports submitted by principal investigators, 330 and 257 students participated in RT-19-sponsored SE Capstone courses in the fall 2010 and spring 2011 semesters, respectively. Many institutions enrolled the same students for both semesters, but a few, such as the University of Maryland, enrolled a new cohort of students in the spring, bringing the total number of students impacted to more than 360. Approximately half were undergraduates, of whom the majority were fourth year seniors. Of the graduate students, most were first year students, with small percentage post-graduates participating in roles such as project manager. Four topic areas illustrating authentic DoD problems were presented for student teams’ projects. Problem area #1, low-cost, low-power computer solutions (see Table 2 for more complete description), was the most heavily subscribed topic, with more than half the projects addressing this problem area. Problem areas were selected, in part, based on expertise of participating faculty and institutional resources, and on availability of DoD and local experts. Institutions organized their teams in different ways: the most common structure included several teams working on several different design problems.