Welcome to the JHU Systems Engineering Advising Corner!

The following provides a general discussion with perspective for recently admitted students in the JHU graduate Systems Engineering Program related to the nature of the program, admission requirements, career planning, and program development. The discussion is based on frequently asked questions that arise during advising sessions. The final authority is Engineering for Professionals (EP). Only official decisions can come from the Systems Engineering Admissions Committee. Please direct program course questions to the advisor you were assigned upon admission. Further assistance is always available by emailing ep-se@jhu.edu.

Systems Engineering Advisors

Academic advisors are assigned to students in the admissions letter sent by JHU EP. If you are not sure who your advisor is, please email Jacque Rowe at Jacqueline.Rowe@jhuapl.edu. The academic advisor will, as needed:

  • answer programmatic questions, directing you to appropriate resources or contacts;
  • help in the selection of elective courses;
  • review Degree Audit for course selection, prerequisites, and progress toward your degree;
  • approve Degree Audit plan deviations;
  • ensure you are meeting degree milestones in a timely manner; and
  • write letters of reference if needed.

Academic Advisors:

Dr. C. David Brown
cdbrown.gm@gmail.com 410-652-3296
Mr. Jason Dever
jdever1@jhu.edu 703-655-1963
Mr. Charles R. Fidler
charles.fidler@mantech.com 703-859-6627
Dr. David A. Flanigan
david.flanigan@jhuapl.edu 240-228-8129
Ms. Ellie Gianni
egianni3@jhu.edu 410-997-3015
Dr. Mathew Montoya
matthew.montoya@jhuapl.edu 240-228-9658
Mr. Barton L. Paulhamus
bart.paulhamus@jhuapl.edu 240-228-8514
Mr. Christopher M. Ryder
chris.ryder@jhuapl.edu 240-228-4696
Mr. Edward A. Smyth
esmyth1@jhu.edu 410-489-9654
Dr. Larry Strawser
lstraws1@jhu.edu 240-205-5974
Mr. Robert Sweeney
robert.sweeney@jhuapl.edu 240-228-1673
Mr. Daniel P. Syed
daniel.syed@jhuapl.edu 240-228-6827

Program Contact

Other than your advisor, the best single point of contact for questions and concerns about the Systems Engineering Program is Jacque Rowe (Jacqueline.Rowe@jhuapl.edu or 240-228-6002).

General Program Comments

The JHU Systems Engineering (SE) Program is intended for students who have a technical background and are now engaged or have the desire to be engaged in leading the development of complex systems. The JHU program has the objective of providing students with the knowledge and problem solving skills that are required to guide the engineering development of modern complex systems. These include the broad technical literacy necessary to integrate multidisciplinary system elements, and to make the system-level tradeoffs between performance, cost, and schedule. The students are expected to develop skills and habits of thought employing the principles of systems engineering.

In this program, students learn from reading and from interactive presentations by experienced systems engineers, and by applying this knowledge to solving practical systems problems. They exercise their skills in analysis, synthesis, and coordination of the various disciplines required to develop, produce, and operate complex technical systems to meet a customer’s need. Through this “hands-on” approach under the guidance and tutelage of instructors experienced in systems engineering, the students develop the ability to think through the entire complex process of systems development from analyzing requirements to specifying operating procedures. They learn the systems engineering software tools available and can focus in domain areas most appropriate to their employment and careers.

Career Planning Notes

The field of systems engineering is relatively new, but has significant and increasing relevance in the development of both government and civilian systems. Systems engineers are highly sought after because their skills complement those in other fields and often serve as the "glue" to bring new ideas to fruition. Career choices and the related educational needs for those choices is complex, but they can be considered in the context of the following diagram.

system life cycle image

Four potential career directions are shown, where there are varying degrees of overlap between them. The systems engineer focuses on the whole system product leading and working with many diverse technical team members, following the systems engineering development cycle, conducting studies of alternatives, and managing the system interfaces. The systems engineer generally matures in the field after a technical undergraduate degree with work experience and a Master of Science degree in systems engineering, with increasing responsibility of successively larger projects, eventual serving as the chief or lead systems engineer for major systems, or systems-of-systems development. Note the overlap and need to understand the content and roles of the technical specialists and the program manager.

The project or program manager with a technical or business background is responsible for interfacing with the customer and defining the work, developing the plans, monitoring and controlling the project progress, and delivering the finished output to the customer. The program manager often learns on the job from experience with projects of increasing size and importance, enhancing the toolset available with a Master of Science degree in Technical/Program Management. While not exclusively true, the Chief Executive Officer is frequently found in the ranks of the organization's program managers.

The financial career path that ultimately could lead to a Chief Financial Officer position usually includes a business undergraduate and MBA degrees. Individuals progress through their careers with various horizontal and vertical moves, often with specialization in the field. There is overlap in skill and knowledge with the program manager in areas of contract and finance management.

Many early careers start with a technical undergraduate degree in engineering, science, or information technology. The technical specialist makes contributions as part of a team in the area of their primary knowledge, honing skills and experience to develop and test individual components or algorithms that are part of a larger system. Contributions are made project-to-project over time and recognition is gained from innovative, timely, and quality workmanship. Technical specialists need to continue to learn about their field, and stay current in order to be employable compared to the next generation of college graduates. Often advanced degrees (MS and PhDs) are acquired to enhance knowledge, capability, and recognition; job responsibilities can lead to positions such as lead engineer, lead scientist, or Chief Technology Officer in an organization. The broader minded or experienced specialist often considers careers in systems engineering.

Program Course Requirements

In order to earn a master's degree or certificate in Systems Engineering, you must meet the requirements and successfully complete the core and elective courses. On rare occasions, a student is unable to complete the MS degree course requirement due to work, travel, or health reasons. In these cases a Systems Engineering Graduate Certificate can be granted by JHU if that course requirement is met. The current requirements and courses are detailed on the SE program page in their respective sections and in the current EP academic catalog. Each academic year’s requirements and courses are archived in the catalog for that year, which is itself archived on the Academic Catalogs page.

ABET Accreditation

In 2013, the JHU M.S.E. Program was accredited by the Engineering Accreditation Commission (EAC) of ABET. JHU was the first civilian university (and one of only a handful of universities) to receive this prestigious accreditation for a master's degree program in systems engineering. ABET accreditation attests to the rigorous quality improvement processes and standards practiced by JHU's program.

Transfer Courses

The Admission Committee at the time of admission makes decisions regarding approval of up to two courses for transfer into the SE program. Transfer courses are only applicable to the SE electives or as exact replacement to JHU SE core courses. Transfer courses from outside the JHU EP must:

  • come from an accredited college or university;
  • have been taken within the last five years;
  • be clearly graduate level courses;
  • have academic empirical "substance," e.g. technically challenging;
  • not be used for any other degree or certificate;
  • have received an A or B grade and be accompanied by an official transcript;
  • not have been taken at an international institution;
  • not have been taken after admission into the MS SE program; and
  • be relevant to the systems engineering degree.

"Relevant to the SE degree" means that the "technical" course is from science, engineering, mathematics, or computer science areas (e.g. not business, history, social science, etc.). Identifying an equivalent EP course is helpful in gaining quick approval. The principle of having elective courses in this systems engineering program is based on the expectation that the systems engineer will be leading diverse technical teams and to be capable and credible, he/she should be technically current in a chosen field related to his/her career. A link to the college course description is highly recommended.

Courses that have been taken online or at small private colleges outside JHU require special consideration, with examination of the course syllabus, sample course work, exams, and homework to determine the appropriate inclusion in the JHU degree program. In some cases, contact will be made with the institution to learn more about the course. In this manner, the content and academic rigor of the proposed transfer course can be thoroughly assessed.

When a proposed transfer course provides a very close match to an existing JHU SE course, and if the course is approved for transfer, it may replace an existing SE course. All the course transfer criteria must be met. The proposed course(s) are likely from an institution that has a similar graduate systems engineering program. The maximum two-course transfer limit still applies. Academic advisors do not handle transfer course requests. Please address such questions to ep-se@jhu.edu.

Government and military students in the JHEP Systems Engineering program may have had the opportunity to take Defense Acquisition University (DAU) courses that can be considered for transfer credit into the program. The accredited DAU courses must be Level III courses that have been certified by the American Council on Education (ACE) with three or more graduate credits. Applicants should provide a copy of their DAU transcripts and/or copies of their Level III Certificates.

For students enrolled in the U.S. Naval Test Pilot School in Patuxent River, MD; two JHU electives are authorized for transfer upon receipt of their TPS course transcript.

Typical courses that would be considered are:

DAU for JHU
PMT 401 (PMT 301) 645.467
PMT 403/405 645.467
PMT 402/305 645.467
PMT 352B 645.467
ENG 301, SYS 301, or SYS 302 645.462
CON 234/353 elective
IRM 303 elective
PQM 301/PRD 301 elective

JHU cannot count work experience for graduate credit.

Master's Project

The Systems Engineering Master's Project (645.800) is a course that provides the experience of applying systems engineering principles and skills learned in the formal courses to a specific practical project that is suggested by the student and is presented in a formal proposal.

The product of this project is a final report, as well as interim reports and an oral presentation to permit review of the project objectives and approach. A student typically has a mentor who is a member of the systems engineering faculty (please note that a student’s project mentor may be different from his/her academic advisor).

The total time required for this course is comparable to the combined class and study time for the formal courses, but it is self-paced and often takes more than one term to complete.

All students that are enrolled in Test and Evaluation (645.769) should be allowed access to the Systems Engineering Master's Project (645.800) website on Blackboard. In here, they can access the course guidelines, view the list of mentors, and view numerous example projects. This should help provide some level of guidance, as well as give students an idea of what to expect during their artifact development. In addition, our Test and Evaluation instructors should be able to provide initial guidance in starting to think ahead for the project course.

Tips for Selecting a Project Topic

  • Before you start your Systems Engineering Master's Project, it is good to think about your project approach. The first item is what your project topic will be. Many students will have some level of difficulty selecting a topic. It does not have to be a work-related topic, and in many cases that should be avoided; you may know too much about the topic and be tempted to dive right into the solution space, rather than using the systems engineering process.
  • Consider picking a topic that you have some interest in, as you will be studying this topic for the entire term. It can contain both hardware and software elements, but we discourage doing a software-only system. You will need some form of concept, both functional and physical, to complete the project, and a software-only approach will not provide that capability.
  • Start with identifying some system needs: look around you either at work, home, or areas that you think might need some improvements. Can you succinctly define what the gaps/needs are with the current system(s)? Being able to quantify these objectives and gaps is a good start.
  • Next, look at the context of your proposed system. How can this concept or capability help address the gaps? What should it interact with (either current or future systems)? What is the envisioned output of this capability? Here is where a context diagram can help solidify your concept and understand the system boundary of what is in and out of scope for your project.
  • Think about the different perspectives of your system concept. Who would use this? Are there different types of activities and outcomes that would result from different users? These may help identify some of the activities that your system will need to perform, as well as types of interfaces and performance that the system is expected to perform. Developing several stories, such as use cases or scenarios, can help bring these perspectives to life, and make interaction with your stakeholders easier to help elicit both functions and requirements as you walk through the different phases or states of operation of your system. Having several different scenarios can provide a richer systems perspective in order to fully develop your functions and requirements to ensure you don't miss a particular phase or attribute of your system.

More Tips on Getting Started

As a head start, students can review the updated project overview and project guidelines, so that they can plan accordingly. The overview is a high-level view of the different types of artifacts required for the project, as well as the timeline. The guidelines provide a more detailed description of the artifacts and offer some guidance.

Students can also listen to the recording of our most recent virtual open house in which mentors and instructors offered additional tips for the master's project, and answered students' questions in a live Q&A. Students are welcome to download the slides from the virtual open house as well.

Additional details should be discussed with the project mentor.

Master's Thesis

The two-semester thesis option is strongly recommended only for students planning to pursue doctoral studies. This course is designed for a very few students in the systems engineering master’s program who work with a thesis advisor to conduct independent academic research in the field of systems engineering leading to a paper that is publishable in a refereed journal or conference proceedings. The intent of the research is to advance the body of knowledge and the understanding of systems engineering practices, the improvement of systems engineering practices in industry and in government, the evolution of systems engineering tools and techniques, and the solution of systems development problems in the acquisition of advanced systems.

A student wishing to pursue a thesis in lieu of a master's project will write a concise (one or two pages) description of his or her thesis research intent and submit it to the thesis course instructor no less than two weeks prior to the beginning of the course enrollment period in which the student wishes to begin his or her thesis work. The paper should describe the problem the student intends to study and a preliminary plan to address it, including support from representative literature. The thesis course instructor will work with members of the faculty to determine whether the student is a suitable candidate for the thesis course and, if so, help identify an advisor to work with the student.

The student, if selected for the thesis course, will work with his or her advisor to develop a plan for thesis completion, including dates for a thesis proposal review and final thesis defense. The proposal review and final defense will be attended by a committee consisting of the student’s advisor, the thesis course instructor, and one or two additional faculty selected by the student and advisor on the basis of particular expertise needed to suitably evaluate the student’s work. The research plan will also list candidate journals and conferences for publication. This list will be considered as part of the proposal review.

If the thesis proposal is deemed suitable by the committee, the student will proceed with his or her research. Otherwise, a second proposal review will be scheduled. If the second proposal is rejected, the student will withdraw from the thesis class and enroll in a future offering of the master's project class. The same guidelines apply equally to the final thesis defense. The thesis will nominally require two semesters to complete. However, the student can extend this period as needed to complete his or her work, subject to the judgment of the thesis course instructor and his or her advisor. Contact Dr. Larry Strawser for further information, lstraws1@jhu.edu.

Degree Audit

Degree Audit is an automated software system that incorporates a web application that has been built for the purpose of evaluating student progression toward degree completion. It allows the Systems Engineering Program to enter its degree and course requirements in a logical format, and then uses those requirements to create degree audits on students. Degree audits are the evaluations of a student's progress against the student's degree requirements. These evaluations are useful not only as status reports, but also as planning tools.

Course Delivery Modes

Classes may be taken in three different modalities or course pathways. Students can mix and match public-live classroom courses with online courses that best fit their work and life schedules.

  • Face to face or On-site (APL and Southern Maryland Higher Education Center locations): instructors provide live instruction at regularly scheduled course times.
  • Virtual Live: instructors provide live instruction at regularly scheduled course times, similar to face-to-face sessions, but students have the ability to participate synchronously during class times, or may view the class recordings.
  • Online: instructors have recorded lecture materials that students can download and view asynchronously. Weekly office hours are available for synchronous questions, as well as any scheduled sessions by appointment with the instructor.

Course Load

Students in the EP program are professionals who work during the day and are advancing their education on evenings and weekends. EP courses require substantial dedication from the students and are often time-consuming due to homework assignments, projects, and so forth. This is particularly true with online students, as much of the learning experience is self-driven. As such, most students enroll in one course at a time, though some are able to make time to complete two courses in a semester. Students are discouraged from taking a second class while working on their master's project or thesis, as these efforts require exceptional focus and dedication.

Instructors put in their syllabus, and discuss in class, their expectation for submission of homework in the face of student travel. Our general expectation is that students will always submit assignments when due independent of travel, unless they have prior approval from the instructor based on lack of Internet access.

Systems Engineering Course Enrollment

A few months prior to the start of a semester, the EP website opens for student registration in courses on a first-come-first-served basis. You will receive a reminder email a week or so before registration opens. Please check the annual EP calendar for key dates. Each student must enroll in their next course(s) each semester and can do so conveniently online. If the Degree Audit is up-to-date, registration is allowed in the course(s). Academic advisor permission is needed via e-mail if the registration system will not process the request.

Many systems engineering course sections are filled or are nearly filled each semester, so it is important to enroll in a timely manner. If a course section is filled, you may request to be put on a wait list in hopes an additional section will open. When the wait list exceeds six or more students, and instructors and classroom space can be found, every effort is made to accommodate the wait-listed students by opening new sections.

If for legitimate reasons, registration does not occur in a timely manner, the student is encouraged to seek advisor assistance prior to start of the semester to register in an open course where there is eligibility.

Grading

The Whiting School of Engineering for Professionals, has adopted the university’s grading policy and it appears in the catalog, shown below. The Systems Engineering Program will comply with the university’s grading policy.

At the beginning of each course, the instructor will place in the syllabus the intended grading scale. It is recognized that the field of systems engineering is more qualitative than say, math or physics, so the instructors have many years of experience and use good judgment to assign grades, set clear expectations, provide detailed feedback, and minimize unexplained subjectivity in responses. Students should focus on the content of the courses and not the grades. It is expected that all sections of a course will use the same grading policy and grade distribution (percentages for homework, exams, discussion questions, etc.). Upon graduation, the impressive JHU Systems Engineering diploma will not show a GPA, nor reflect any grade earned in the program. Honors will still be reserved for students who achieve a grade of A in all their courses—this can be any combination of A+, A, and A−.

Software

Systems engineering software tools are widely used in the workplace in the development of complex systems. Students in the JHU SE program are exposed to such tools, and in some cases, are expected to use them in systems course projects. Students are encouraged to access and learn the use of job relevant tools outside of the classroom.

Microsoft Office Project provides project management and scheduling tools to manage projects more efficiently and effectively. You can control project work, schedules, and finances; keep project teams aligned; and effectively communicate and present project information.

Microsoft Office Visio 2007 allows you to visualize, explore, and communicate complex information with data-connected diagrams that communicate information at a glance.

IBM® Rational® DOORS® provides solutions for requirements definition and requirements management, improves quality by optimizing communication and collaboration, and by promoting compliance and verification.

Model Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) Software Tools: Students will be introduced to MBSE in the SE Program’s core courses and will have access to use MBSE tools to complete homework assignments and team projects. Both Vitech CORE and No Magic Cameo Enterprise Architecture (MagicDraw) are available free for academic use by JHU Systems Engineering students. Starting in Spring 2019, access to these tools can be found under the Community tab in Blackboard.

The Vitech CORE MBSE environment synchronizes system requirements, behavioral models, architectures, and design solutions with test procedures and system specifications. The resulting integrated executable architecture can be simulated using the COREsim discrete event simulator to gain insight into potential performance issues enabling better risk and contingency management for any size project. CORE's object-oriented environment delivers the same robust functionality from single user workstations to large, distributed, client-server teams.

No Magic's Cameo Enterprise Architecture (MagicDraw) is a cross-platform collaborative MBSE environment, which provides smart, robust, and intuitive tools to define, track, and visualize all aspects of systems in the most standard-compliant SysML models and diagrams. The environment enables systems engineers to run engineering analysis for design decisions evaluation and requirements verification, continuously check model consistency, and track design progress with metrics.

Technology

The successful SE student must have access to a modern computer with Microsoft Office software, e-mail, and full Internet connectivity. The computer should have audio capability. For students in the Systems Engineering online program, it is expected that you will have a small computer camera and a head set microphone to enhance communication with your instructors and other students.

JHU EP Systems Engineering courses use web software to augment or to deliver the course material. Students will be provided access and training to such course management tools as Blackboard. They are a combined set of software tools designed to help instructors, researchers, and students create websites for collaboration, help keep classes organized, help post announcements to keep students informed, help students stay organized, and help provide resources and information. Students submit their assignments online, and take online self-grading quizzes and anonymous surveys. To access Blackboard, you will use your JHED ID and password. If you do not know your JHED ID, please see our instructions on how to find your JHED ID.

For office hours and group project time in online courses, JHU uses Zoom to provide enhanced synchronous communication via videoconferencing. Sessions may be recorded so that you can view the content and interactions at a later time.