Undergraduate Research Advances Systems Engineering Knowledge, Supports U.S. Department of Defense

11/5/2012

Involving students in cutting-edge, interdisciplinary academic research alongside faculty members is one of the hallmarks of Stevens’ undergraduate program.

For the first time this summer, Stevens undergraduates joined the systems engineering research community, working on several significant projects to advance the innovative pursuits of the Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC), a University Affiliated Research Center (UARC), competitively awarded by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) to Stevens in 2008.

The SERC, a nationwide network of collaborator universities and more than non-profit research organizations, is focused on enhancing the nation’s knowledge and capability in the area of systems engineering thinking to address critical global issues. 

“One of the SERC research priorities is workforce development, and one aspect of this research involves introducing systems thinking and systems concepts at the undergraduate level,” said Debra Facktor Lepore, director of strategic programs for the SERC and industry professor in the School of Systems and Enterprises. "The undergraduate students worked on research projects that increased their understanding of the role systems engineering plays in solving complex systems problems. They contributed to important behind-the-scenes elements of research, such as learning how to conduct a literature search, manage data, and interface with other systems engineering experts around the country."

Student research by Robert Ritter ‘12, Abigail Vaskain ’14, Hudson Amaro ’12 and Logan Bagarozy '15 furthered the SERC’s mission by pushing forward large-scale DoD projects to keep the U.S. safe.

Ritter, who earned his B.S in Engineering Management in 2012, worked with Lepore to compile thousands of lines of notes from discussions with systems engineering subject matter experts and reviews of systems engineering publications into a concise database. His project especially focused on consolidating information related to rapid systems engineering, with the purpose of helping industries and organizations make processes more efficient.

“I learned a great deal about the different approaches to product development, especially concerning the complex needs of the people driving these processes and how their interactions with each other affect the final product,” Ritter said.

Upon graduation, Ritter worked for a small consulting firm doing Workday SaaS integration implementations, and is soon moving on to MasterCard where he will continue developing its global Workday integration catalog. He said the insights and experiences he gained during his summer research with the SERC is already helping him in his career.

“The idea of making any process more efficient by using engineering best practices is relatable to all industries,” he said.

Vaskain, an Innovation & Entrepreneurship Summer Scholar, helped Lepore prepare for the annual SERC Research Review, which convenes academic and government leaders to share ideas concerning the DoD’s research challenges. Vaskain created a program and structure for the event, providing themes to facilitate collaboration.

She also worked with an interdisciplinary team of Stevens faculty members and former astronaut and Navy Seal Captain William Shepard to create a new vision for systems engineering capstone courses at Stevens.

“My work was a balance of big picture thinking and engineering, enhancing my ability to conceive and select innovative strategies,” Vaskain said.

Amaro, who will earn his B.E. and M.E. in Mechanical Engineering in Dec. 2012, worked on the SERC RT-34 project, which looks at existing expedited systems engineering practices, catering specifically to warfighter needs, and what different practices, systems and criteria help them to succeed, or not succeed. Taking this information, the project hopes to develop guidelines that will help existing and future programs to succeed with their rapid projects, while completing them faster, smarter and better.

“This research is helping to improve a critical aspect of warfighter support,” Amaro said. “When these urgent needs are brought up, you want to fulfill them in the smartest way, as fast as you can. In these projects where time and quality are key, having these guidelines to improve expedited engineering process can save not only time, and money, but lives as well."

Stevens Scholar Logan Bagarozy ’15 also conducted a literature search and analysis of articles and reports related to expediated systems engineering, including reports from other SERC Research Tasks and case studies from both standard and expedited engineering projects.

"I learned a lot about best practices in systems engineering, especially with regard to the benefit of having the right people for a Systems Engineering project," Bagarozy said.

His research on rapid engineering could impact military development and acquisition, enabling the DoD to respond to threats much faster and neutralize new developments that threaten the nation, rather than get bogged down by procedure.

"It has been a joy to work with these students and see what they can accomplish!" said Lepore.