Andrew Merkle, D.Eng, systems engineering program chair, explains how Digital Engineering is transforming systems engineering and provides guidance for practitioners in the field.
What technology do you see your field changing/heading in the next 5-10 years?
Digital Engineering (DE) has already begun to play a role in transforming systems engineering and that impact is likely to grow substantially in the coming decade. DE will enhance the methods by which complex systems are conceptualized, designed, fabricated and acquired. This is precisely the reason that the JHU Systems Engineering Program has established new course content for DE, to include Model Based Systems Engineering, Foundations of Digital and Mission Engineering and Mission Engineering. We will also be considering additional approaches to incorporating DE into core courses early in the program.
What specific new courses have you introduced or redesigned over the last five years to meet the needs of engineers in your field? Why are these courses important?
The JHU Systems Engineering Program regularly evaluates our course catalog to 1) confirm that we are maintaining high quality courses and 2) to ensure we are leading the way in providing course content that will best serve today’s professional engineer. Although we are always in the process of developing and refining courses, of note is the concerted effort to enhance our Digital Engineering course offerings., to include Model Based Systems Engineering, Foundations of Digital and Mission Engineering and Mission Engineering. We will also be considering additional approaches to incorporating DE into core courses early in the program.
Has the profile of online students changed? If so, how?
From the early days of the SE program, which was more than 30 years ago, the students have always been motivated professionals with a desire to increase their ability to understand all aspects of systems engineering. Today is no different. However, due to having an easily accessible and mostly virtual program, the program does now benefit from a much more geographically and technically diverse set of students. We find that this enriches the course content and peer experience based on exposure to other technical areas and new ways of thinking.
What are the essential skills that a student will need to be successful as in engineer, especially considering the technological advances now and in the future?
The complexity of systems has grown and the rate at which these systems change has accelerated. However, the keys to success in engineering have largely remained constant. To paraphrase my predecessor, Dr. Ron Luman, an engineer must first establish technical depth where they are the subject matter expert in their narrow field. This depth then should expand to technical breadth, which comes with an awareness of broad functional domains and the ability to develop and integrate systems solutions. Lastly, an engineer should seek to scale their impact through leadership, whether it be technical or organizational.
What is one key engineering technological development that you find most interesting and why?
I am fascinated by so many technologies, both the nature of their origins as well as the scientific breakthroughs or achievements that were required to enable them. One of the modern day marvels of course is the internet. To be able to organize the world’s knowledge and make it readily accessible is a powerful and fascinating thing – that itself is allowing the proliferation of other technological developments.
What inspired you to become an engineer?
I was always interested in medicine and engineering, specifically mechanics. This led to focusing my collegiate studies on biomechanics, with specific interest in the response of human systems to the world around them. This field presents many challenges, and requires an understanding of both the human system and engineering principles. In addition to the technical rigor, I found great satisfaction in working on problems that would, if successful, make a difference in people’s lives.
Describe your role and job responsibilities?
I am the Mission Area Executive for Research and Exploratory Development at APL. In this role, I am responsible for developing and executing the strategy that invents the future for APL and our customers.
What advice would you give to mid-career engineers?
Never miss a chance to take on more responsibility, embrace the risk that comes with that responsibility and learn from the outcome, both positive and negative.