2022 First-Year Engineering Experience

First Year Engineering Student Definitions of Systems Engineering: A Comparison Between Two Institutions

Presented at Technical Session M5A

First Year Engineering Student Definitions of Systems Engineering: A Comparison Between Two Institutions

This full research paper builds on previous work investigating first-year engineering (FYE) students’ understanding of Systems Engineering and suggests methods to increase students’ knowledge of the major for increasing enrollment in the program. Systems Engineering has recently been acknowledged as a discipline in its own right by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET), which began accrediting systems engineering programs in 2017-2018 (ABET, 2016). In 2021, ABET approved and accepted an updated Systems Engineering Program Criteria, cooperatively revised by INCOSE (International Council on Systems Engineering) (ABET, 2021). Systems Engineering is not available at University Y, and it is currently only offered as a minor under the Bachelor of Science in Engineering degree at University X. The primary goal of this study was to understand how first year engineering students define Systems Engineering and whether their understanding of the discipline was influenced by the availability of a Systems Engineering program at their university.

A survey was conducted of FYE students at two Universities, one with a Systems Program (University X) and one without (University Y). The students from University X, a Midwestern technical university (N=63), and University Y, a Western technical university (N=37) were also asked to define each of the engineering majors. None of the students surveyed were enrolled in a Systems Engineering program.

In the 2021-22 academic year there are 12 students enrolled in Systems Engineering at University X, a relatively new program, and less than 5 of them are female. The previous year, six students were enrolled, and at least one of them was female, a 50% increase in total enrollment. The qualitative results of this survey indicate that many students are unsure of what Systems Engineering is, and there are many answers that are very general about complex systems, including “System Engineering is engineering where you work on risk management, integration of other engineers. Basically a broad sense of most engineering branches and being able to connect them” or “understanding how systems work and how they affect each other.“ This is problematic because students might not select Systems Engineering as their major area of study due to lack of knowledge of the discipline. Previous survey results of University X’s students will be compared to the current results across the two universities. Results of this study can help emerging Systems Engineering programs understand points of confusion about the discipline and better guide the development of educational materials about their majors.

  1. Mrs. Katrina Carlson Michigan Technological University [biography]
  2. Dr. Akua B. Oppong-Anane Montana Technological University [biography]
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