Systems Engineering Program

The Cornell Systems Engineering (SYSEN) Program was founded about 20 years ago based upon requests from several large US corporations including GM, Applied Materials, Xerox, and others. The system has now grown to having about 40 professional masters (MEng) students enrolled on campus and about 160 MEng students enrolled via distance learning (DL). The DL students are working professionals across the United States and internationally, in various companies and governmental offices, and sponsored by their organizations. The DL program offers the same fully accredited degree as offered through our on-campus program and is the primary financial source of support for the SYSEN program.

Motivated by the success of its professional programs and faculty interest, in 2016 SYSEN initiated an on campus PhD program that focuses on research in systems science and engineering. The program currently has approximately 24 PhD students; the first PhD degree was awarded in spring 2020 to a student who is already a faculty member at another university. The SYSEN Graduate Field currently has more than 40 faculty members, although the actively engaged faculty is relatively small. Partly due to its success, SYSEN is seriously understaffed both in terms of its core faculty and support staff. There are also opportunities to leverage best practices from the SYSEN DL education model to build programs in other COE disciplines to educate professional masters and possibly certificate students where these students work and live.

A systems engineering class with David Schneider, lecturer in Operations Research and Information Engineering.
(photo by Jason Koski, Cornell University)

The overarching vision is for the SYSEN Program to become an internationally recognized high-impact institutional and intellectual home to address systems challenges. The SYSEN strategic plan calls for investments in people, programs, and infrastructure that addresses the following set of priorities:

  • Create an inclusive cross-Cornell Institute (the Cornell Institute for Complex Systems (CICS)) to work in a transdisciplinary manner across systems sciences, social sciences, humanities, and other applied sciences to develop research and educational programs dealing with a wide range of modern sociotechnical problems. CICS will facilitate more impactful collaborations with industry and will establish a cross-campus network to spearhead research and education, particularly in the transdisciplinary area of Social Technical & Human Factors Systems Engineering.
  • Continue to build strength of the DL programs by focusing on societal and industrial partner needs and on delivering a quality professional education programs both on campus and in distance-learning modes. Increase the student value proposition and have our curriculum, programs, and graduating MEng students be preferred by industry and government employers.
  • Grow the SYSEN MEng program on-campus and distance-learning by expanding the range of organizations sponsoring distance-learning students.
  • Increase the student value proposition by continuing to improve life-cycle service to students, and to seek exterior, industry valued certifications & recognitions for our programs such as INCOSE knowledge exam equivalency (ASEP/CSEP certification), Council of Six Sigma, and integration with Lockheed Martin’s Engineering Leadership Development Program.
  • MEng DL Tuition Financial model – Systems sits on its own bottom line financially and receives no income from the college outside of TA support. For this, as agreed between the College and the SYSEN program, we continue to maintain our present tuition return model in order for SYSEN to stay financially stable.
  • Continue to build strength in the PhD program by focusing on maintaining the quality of admitted students, enabling greater variety and higher-quality SYSEN research, and by building the reputation of the program in- and outside Cornell.
  • Build a stronger identity of the SYSEN program by developing a long-term stable space for SYSEN staff, faculty, students, and operations.

An additional set of priorities concern SYSEN’s interest in providing distinctive and exciting educational experiences, while at the same time implementing programs that impact both Cornell’s reputation and overall public opinion. Towards this goal SYSEN will create new, very short-term visiting faculty positions for VPs and CEOs to create epigrammatic, high-impact educational “modules” of 2-6 lectures & assignments that excite alumni and current & perspective students as well as speak to the world of the caliber of the Cornell Systems Engineering Community. Furthermore, these new visiting faculty’s involvements can be included in any Cornell advertisement, and every achievement of theirs highlighted in the press, is an additional press release and “faculty in the news” story that Systems has. These activities will complement efforts in CICS to develop more impactful collaborations with industry. Towards this goal, CICS plans to incorporate a new corporate advisory board, corporate member conferences to help ensure our curriculum is cutting edge, and an incubator to support corporate research collaborations and broad “inreach” across all Cornell colleges and disciplines, including traditional grant writing support and research seed money. Special attention is also given to the value proposition for potential corporate members who have a required annual fee as is typical for other Cornell Institutes.

As a whole, Systems Engineering is at the forefront of a period of impactful growth and new development that capitalizes on the success of its industry-connected MEng foundation. From Systems’ new educational products, pioneering transdisciplinary research opportunities, and game changing cross campus and corporate collaboration initiatives, Systems Engineering is primed and eager to do its part to enhance Cornell’s reputation as a world leader.

Rhodes Hall

Rhodes Hall. (Photo by Jason Koski, Cornell University.)