Systems Engineering Major  

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What is Systems Engineering all about?

We use skills from Electrical, Mechanical and Computer Engineering to make smart devices. Most of our projects have a sensor, a motor and a computer of some type in it. At the core of our major is a sequence of courses in Automatic Control Systems. We also offer electives in Robotics, Autonomous Vehicles, Sensors and Computer Systems. Every year about 120 students select Systems Engineering as their major, making it one of the most popular selections at the US Naval Academy.

Answers to some frequently asked questions about our major follow. Also, check out the  Course Matrix.

What it is NOT...

Systems Engineering is defined differently by other universities. Our major is not Project Management, Industrial Engineering or Operations Research. It is closer to "Mechatronics" or Control System departments seen at other universities. Many of the things we teach and research are traditionally included within the Mechanical or Electrical Engineering departments at other places. At the Naval Academy, Electrical Engineering and Mechanical Engineering are two additional rigorous majors of their own.

Our students get a chance to do basic mechanical design and fabrication, soldering and wiring of electronics, and some basic programming. However, we also focus on the smart integration of existing components rather than building entire low-level devices from scratch. For example, in designing an airplane, Aerospace engineers might design the wing shape, Mechanical Engineers might design the nozzle on the jet engine, and Computer Engineers might design the IC chipset for the avionics. System Engineers would need to know a little about how all those things work to design an effective autopilot system or an onboard sensor package.

What kinds of classes can I take?

There are a lot of popular choices for electives within the major such as robotics, autonomous vehicles, computer vision, control systems, and communication systems; and we give you a lot of flexibility to take technical electives in other departments. Check out the Major Courses Page for a list of electives and required courses.

What do students say they like most about the major?

Every year we poll the outgoing 1/C to find out what they liked the most about Systems Engineering. Invariably these are the top three responses:

  • Projects - If you like building things and learn by doing, this is a good major for you. During the 1/C year students get to design, build, and test a project of their choosing. We'll let you build just about anything you can dream up (as long as it is safe and we have the parts). Past projects include self-righting kayaks, automatic guitar tuners, and all kinds of robots and unmanned land/sea/air vehicles. Check out some of last year's capstone projects. In addition, almost all of our courses have a lab component – many have end-of-the-semester projects too.
  • Flexibility - There is a lot of opportunity to tailor the major toward your interests. Between the 5 major electives and the design project, there are about 6 courses that you get to choose. If for example, you like robotics or electrical systems, you can choose to concentrate in those areas. We also let you take up to two electives outside the department (Nuclear, Electrical, Aerospace, etc) if you're interested in those areas.
  • Faculty - Our faculty love to teach. And it shows. We pride ourselves on being approachable, personable and knowledgeable. We constantly strive to bring the latest technology into the classroom. One of our faculty members won the USNA Civilian Teaching Award (Prof. Bishop) or received honorable mentions (Prof. Piepmeier); and more than one has won the Engineering Division's Raouff Teaching Award (Prof. Piper, Bishop, Esposito) and the ASEE Western Electric Award (Prof. Demoyer). In addition, the Princeton Review College Ranking Guide rates the Naval Academy as a whole very high for faculty accessibility. In fact they describe the professors at the Academy as “some of the most caring ... people in the world.” They “are always accessible outside of class,” and “they do whatever it takes for the students to understand the material.” In our department we take that role very seriously.

What is the "Capstone Project" I keep hearing about?

It is one of the best parts of the major. It is a year long, team-based, design project where you get to apply all you have learned in your course work to a real world problem. See the description of the project experience in the previous question, and check out the design project showcase.

What does the Honors Program involve?

Students who have selected Systems Engineering and are near the top of their class, will be invited to the Systems Engineering Honors Program at end of the 3/C year. The program involves taking Honors versions of three standard Systems Engineering courses and one advanced technologies capstone course, as well as preparing for and completing a small research project. The Honors Systems Engineering program is only three credits more than that standard, and does not involve overloading your schedule.

This major sounds hard. I am not sure if I can do it...

Like every engineering major, you have to have some interest and aptitude for math and science. However, if you were able to get through plebe year, there is a pretty good chance you have what it takes to do well in Systems Engineering. It is certainly no more difficult than any other engineering or science major. We don't assume you have any prior experience with building things or programming computers. There is a lot of help available if you need it. The most important piece of advice is to pick a major you are genuinely interested in and excited about.

Are you accredited?

Absolutely. We're accredited by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and technology (ABET) – the gold standard for engineering programs in the United States.

What can I do after graduation?

Short answer – just about anything.

Within the Navy, having an Engineering degree keeps options like test pilot, astronaut or engineering duty officer open for you. It also helps you prepare for difficult technical training like nuke school. From a practical point of view, the exposure you get to complex computer and sensor systems helps prepare you for life in the fleet. There is no job in the Navy that is off limits to you if you major in Systems Engineering.

Outside the Navy, lots of big engineering companies like to hire Systems Engineers, especially those with operational experience. Many of our graduates find positions in engineering management.

Every year about 15% of our students decide to go on to graduate school. With an interdisciplinary background like Systems Engineering, many of our graduates attend masters programs in Electrical or Mechanical Engineering at top schools like MIT, Carnegie Melon, University of Pennsylvania, and University of Illinois Urbana-Champagne, to name a few. We've had graduates complete programs in physics, computer science, robotics and environmental engineering, business administration and medical school as well.

What kind of awards have Systems Engineers won?

Our students have won Rhodes, Gates-Cambridge, Marshall, and Rotary Scholarships.   Many of our students have been named by USA Today to their annual All-USA College Academic Team.  In addition, many of our students are varsity letter holders.

Can Systems Engineers participate in the internship program?

The internship program allows you to work at a company or government lab for one summer training block (about 4 weeks).   Typically housing and transportation arrangements are set up through the internship coordinator.   Most of the internships advertised on the engineering division internship (intranet access only), are suitable for Systems Engineering majors.  Keep in mind that the internships must come from that  pre-approved list.

Can I participate in Service Academy Exchange and International Program Office programs?

We encourage it! Every year our majors participate in the Service Academy Exchange Program (SAEP) at the US Air Force Academy and US Military Academy. Spring and Summer Cultural Immersion (LREC) and Language Immersion (LSAP) programs, and Professional Training with Foreign Navies are available to eligible Systems Engineering Majors. Semester Study Abroad Programs are available on a case by case basis. More information is available at the International Program Office.

Can I minor in a language?

Yes you can.  Many of our students have completed language minors, especially in the so-called critical languages: Chinese, Japanese, Russian, and Arabic.  In order to complete the minor without overloading your schedule, it is desirable to have validated (placed out of) two or more non-language courses.

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