Systems engineering is a study in automation, the design and construction of systems or devices that work by themselves with little or no direct human control. The discipline builds on the Sense-Decide-Act concept which introduces sensor-feedback into, for example, a mechanical device making it an industrial robot. The major is close to control engineering or mechatronics (from the Japanese mekatoronikusu) programs found at other universities. Many of the subjects we teach and research are traditionally included within the mechanical or electrical engineering departments elsewhere. For historical reasons having to do with the department’s weaponry lineage, one finds at the Naval Academy a major such as ours dedicated to automation. Our weapon systems origins also explains why the major differs from those that have the same name at some institutions but deal with the management of engineering systems. The fundamental aspects of the discipline include sensors, actuators, feedback loops, computing, and computer programming which are taught in the youngster and junior years. In the first class year, a systems major will concentrate in two application areas chosen from among the following five: estimation (getting quantitative information from raw data) and control, robotics (from heavy-duty to flying craft), embedded computing (programming portable devices), signal processing (including images), and engineering management. An honors version of the major exists for exceptional students. Most of the laboratories and projects involve design, analysis, and experimentation with devices in the aforementioned fields and, therefore, the department is equipped with support materials as well as manned with support staff.
In the first class year, systems majors have the opportunity to apply their knowledge of the discipline and learn about the engineering design process as part of their capstone project, which is the highlight of their studies. Upon graduation our majors join their selected communities with great confidence as their studies have prepared them for a technology-rich workplace. Those who do not pursue a naval career will find plenty of opportunity in the defense sector, automotive, robotic, and biomedical industries to mention a few. Many also go back to school for graduate studies in control, mechanical, electrical, biomedical, and chemical engineering.
The “lifestyle” of the systems major is similar to that of other engineering majors. The year includes course-related special events, internships, nationwide competitions, and culminates with the annual “Systems Ball.” Weekly life includes homework assignments and work in the lab. Computers are necessary tools for design and analysis as well as integral components of the systems under investigation. The math skills acquired in calculus and differential equations and complemented by an engineering math course are essential for in-depth understanding of systems. The technical abilities necessary to work in today’s technology lab are taught in youngster year. The major is one that interests the curious and creative mind; one discovers the latest technology and also learns to use it in new ways.