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What is Systems Engineering?

The 2007 NASA Systems Engineering Handbook defines this engineering specialty as “a methodical, disciplined approach for the design, realization, technical management, operations, and retirement of a system. A “system” is a construct or collection of different elements that together produce results not obtainable by the elements alone.” It encompasses other facets of engineering, such as control engineering, electrical engineering, engineering management, industrial engineering, manufacturing engineering, mechanical engineering, and software engineering. The engineering process usually begins by stating the problem, which might be a concept of operations or a description of a deficiency that requires amelioration. The problem statement emphasizes what must be done, not how to do it.

Bachelor’s Programs

Generally, the first two years of most B.S. degree programs in systems engineering provide a basic overview of the field of engineering in general, with specializations available in the third or fourth years. This overview includes the study of technology and science, design engineering, and business. A research project, a work-study project, or a term abroad often supplement the third and fourth years of study, depending on the program. As a graduate, you will be to seek employment as a systems engineer in industries as petroleum, environmental, electronic, automotive, and industrial. A master’s degree will afford further areas of specialization. In addition to your bachelor’s degree, there are several certifications available through a membership with the International Council on Systems Engineering (INCOSE).

There are bachelor’s programs that combine industrial and systems engineering. Industrial engineering is concerned with design, improvement, and implementation of integrated processes of people, processes, information, materials, management, and equipment. Systems engineering is an interdisciplinary and structured approach to designing and deploying successful systems to blend engineering, systems thinking, and management topics. The major courses in this type of degree may cover engineering mechanics, graphics, ethics, and economic analysis. However, there is the option during the latter phase of the program to choose either the industrial or systems engineering concentration.

The industrial route may involve courses in statistics, logistics, manufacturing systems, and human factors related to engineering. The systems choice is generally more technical oriented with topics like systems reliability, thermodynamics, and mechanics. You can expect these programs to be in the neighborhood of 125-135 credit hours. Furthermore, students choosing this degree field need to have a passion for chemistry, physics, computer technology, and mathematics.


A variance in the above program is to offer the degree as a Bachelor of Science in Industrial (IE) and Systems Engineering. Such a degree may include coursework in more of the recently developed areas of IE enterprise: operations research, human factors, production systems and engineering management, business analytics and business intelligence. The learning objectives of this combined format allow the student to demonstrate: the application of management skills; a global view of organization necessary to design, develop, implement and optimize systems involving people, materials, information, equipment, and energy.

Another example of the diversity of the undergraduate programs is a Bachelor of Science in Systems and Control Engineering. This particular program provides students with the basic concepts, analytical tools, and engineering methods, which analyzing and designing complex technological and non-technological systems require. Problems relating to modeling, simulation, decision-making, control, and optimization are studied. Students will graduate with the ability to design a system, component, or process to meet desired needs within realistic constraints of economics, environmental, social, political, and ethical issues, as well as health and safety concerns.