New Systems Engineering Department is Formed
Collaborative Effort Fuses Expertise of Engineering and Management Programs

The Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science has created a new Department of Systems Engineering, its fourth new academic department in little more than four years.

UT Dallas leaders say that the new department leverages two of the University’s key strongholds: engineering and management.

Dean Mark Spong

Dr. Mark W. Spong

“This is the next step in fulfilling the Jonsson School’s strategic plan of becoming one of the great research engineering schools in the world,” said Dr. Mark W. Spong, dean of the Jonsson School since 2008 and holder of the Lars Magnus Ericsson Chair in Electrical Engineering and the Excellence in Education Chair.

Systems engineering is an interdisciplinary field focusing on the design and management of complex engineering systems over their life cycles. Systems engineers focus on such topics as risk management, automatic control, industrial engineering, project management and organizational behavior.

Working with complex systems relies heavily on operations research and management science, so the Naveen Jindal School of Management partners in several ways with the department. The two schools offer a new joint master’s degree in systems engineering and management.

Dean Hasan Pirkul

Dr. Dean Hasan Pirkul

“Success in developing and operating complex projects requires both scientific and business skills,” said Dr. Hasan Pirkul, dean of the Jindal School and holder of the Caruth Chair of Management. “This joint program offers students an advantage in the career marketplace by training them in engineering and in management at the same time. They graduate not only able to design engineering programs but also to run them as commercial ventures. Those are valuable professional credentials that used to take many years, several jobs  — and often — a good deal of luck to achieve.”       

The UT Dallas program will be geared toward interdisciplinary applications in health care, energy systems, smart grid, software, cybersecurity and defense systems.

Dr. Stephen Yurkovich

Dr. Stephen Yurkovich

“There is a lot of interest in systems engineering,” said Dr. Stephen Yurkovich, head of the new department, which was approved late last semester by the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board. “Industry, as well as the military and government, value the discipline of systems engineering and the collaboration that is necessary to execute complex organizations. In this field, we put together systems that are true examples of the whole being greater than the sum of the individual parts.”

The Jonsson School’s strategic plan calls for doctoral and undergraduate systems engineering degree programs in the future. Yurkovich said that as the department grows, collaborations with the Jindal School on both the research and educations fronts will be ramped up.

Dr. Rajiv R. Shah

Dr. Rajiv R. Shah

Dr. Rajiv R. Shah is a clinical professor in the Jindal School and co-director of the jointly offered program.

“Besides improving the function and efficiency of interdependent system parts through our operations research, the Jindal School adds another important element – business competency – to the study of systems engineering processes,” Shah said. “It is not enough today to know technology and how to design and develop complex components. Engineers also need to be trained as good managers and leaders, and good stewards of corporate resources.”

Dr. Hobson Wildenthal, the University’s executive vice president and provost, lauded the collaborative efforts between the two schools in the establishment of the degree and support of the department.

“Both the Jonsson and Jindal schools have faculty leaders renowned in their fields,” Wildenthal said. “Our students and our community will reap the benefits of their collaboration.”

Recent Jonsson History Shows New Programs Coming Quickly

Systems engineering is the sixth academic department in the Jonsson School.

The school was founded in 1986 with the departments of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science. The school’s electrical engineering and computer science programs now rank third in U.S. News and World Report listings for public graduate specialties in Texas.

In 2006, the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board granted UT Dallas the authority to offer master’s and doctoral degrees in Materials Science and Engineering. This new department drew from the University’s strengths in engineering, as well as physics, chemistry and biology, to study advanced materials and their possible uses in new and sophisticated applications. The department started with fewer than 10 graduate students and this year has nearly 70 graduate students.

The Jonsson School added a Department of Mechanical Engineering in 2008, offering both bachelor’s and master’s degrees. Mechanical engineering is a natural collaborator of electrical engineering with micro-electromechanical systems, or MEMS, which integrates elements and electronics at a microscopic scale, and of computer science with robotics. The program started that fall with about a dozen students and now has more than 350 undergraduates and nearly 30 master’s students.  

The Jonsson School extended its borders with the addition of the Department of Bioengineering, which collaborates with other schools within the University, UT Southwestern Medical Center and the University of Texas at Arlington. The department began offering graduate degrees in the spring of 2010 and undergraduate degrees in the fall of 2011. The department already has more than 90 students, 35 of them graduate students.

The Jonsson School, which started with about 600 students mostly in computer science, now serves 3,600 students.

UT Dallas President David E. Daniel noted that as the new Department of Systems Engineering grows, it will help the University reach its research goals.

“The creation of the systems engineering program is an  example of bringing talent to UT Dallas and putting that talent to work in creative ways,” Daniel said. “There are few, if any engineering schools in the country, at the strong level of quality Jonsson has. To have also tripled the number of departments and degrees in less than a decade is a tribute to the leadership of the school. Dean Spong is leading his school forward.”

Media Contact: The Office of Media Relations, UT Dallas, (972) 883-2155, [email protected].