By Michael R. Grimaila, Ph.D., Air Force Institute of Technology
Originally published May 05, 2017 on the WPAFB website
WRIGHT-PATTERSON AIR FORCE BASE, Ohio - In October 2016, the Department of Systems Engineering and Management at the Air Force Institute of Technology began offering a new program to support the systems engineering acquisition workforce.
The new systems engineering certification program and a modified systems engineering master's program focuses on delivering quality and timely education to Air Force civilians and military. The AFIT Graduate Systems Engineering Program has been in existence and Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology (ABET) accredited since 1974 and is one of the oldest systems engineering masters programs accredited in the United States.
Since 2003, AFIT has graduated more than 500 systems engineering students and has created a variety of programs. Graduate systems engineering programs include resident thesis-based graduate systems engineering masters (18 months, full time), online version of systems engineering masters (one course/quarter, 12 quarters) and online Masters of Engineering in Applied Systems Engineering which is a non-thesis program that includes a capstone (one course/quarter, 12 quarters).
The new program arose from the actions of the AFIT Systems Engineering Research and Analysis Group who conducted an outreach campaign to the Air Force Materiel Command, Air Force Life Cycle Management Center, Space and Missile Systems Center Engineering Directorate, Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Acquisition, Technology and Logistics and the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Science and Technology and Engineering to better understand systems engineering educational needs. Discussions with the stakeholders revealed that a systems engineering certification would provide the ability to credential key engineers who are charged with overseeing major programs.
More than 2,000 civilian engineers at the Air Force Life Cycle Management Center and the Space and Missile Systems Center require systems engineering skills to do their jobs.
Nearly half of these engineers are required to be at the highest levels of proficiency (expert or advanced) in their field.
The Systems Engineering Research and Analysis Group listened to stakeholders who expressed they were looking for a program that goes well beyond the systems engineering training conducted under the Defense Acquisition University and is underpinned by graduate level education and critical thinking. Dr. Kenneth Barker, USAF senior leader for Systems Engineering, AFLCMC Engineering Directorate, stated " This program is supporting the Department of Defense and Air Force imperatives to revitalize engineering excellence, to include 'Owning the Technical Baseline'."
Barker said their four-year journey into competency management has confirmed that systems engineering is the most demanded technical skill in acquisition engineering and that AFIT is doing a great job tailoring their systems engineering certification program for the Air Force's practicing systems engineers.
"There is no better one-year systems engineer educational program available where students will be equipped with skills necessary to diagnose unique Air Force acquisition systems engineering challenges and select appropriate tools and processes to mitigate risk and ensure successful outcomes," Barker said. " Systems engineer certificate holders will meet a fundamental requirement to be validated as an 'expert' meeting a fundamental requirements to hold critical engineering positions requiring expert-status in systems engineering, such as lead systems engineer, chief engineer, and director of engineering. Moreover, systems engineer certificate holders will receive additional credit in all future applications for promotions."
The AFIT faculty is excited about the opportunity to help meet Air Force needs and retired Brig. Gen. (Dr.) Kenneth Moran, director of the AFIT Systems Engineering Research and Analysis Group, said that AFIT is motivated to help give engineers the skills and competencies they need to do a very complex job and committed to the maximum flexibility possible.
Dr. John Colombi, associate professor of Systems Engineering and chair of the Systems Engineering program, said stakeholders wanted students taking the certificate program to have the ability to finish within 12 months as well as have options for accelerated completion, provide the ability to complete the certificate in residence as well as via distance learning during non-core duty hours, and provide those interested with an option to follow-on and complete a master's degree. Colombi said they have revised their certificate program to meet these needs.
"We continue to adapt to meet the educational needs of the Air Force," Dr. Michael R. Grimaila, AFIT professor and department head of Systems Engineering and Management, said. " The new certificate program is one example that provides the ability for civilian and military engineers to bring relevant problems from their office into an academic setting so they can apply what they have learned to help solve the problem. This creates a synergistic environment that rarely exists where fellow students can contribute to solving real world defense focused problems."
In the summer of 2016, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force Acquisition Career Management provided funding to develop and execute the new AFIT program and the first students started their coursework in October 2016. Gail Forest, AFMC director of Engineering and Technical Management, stated " The initial cohort of students recently completed its first course and the informal feedback received is positive. We continue to target key engineers charged with overseeing systems engineering and the potential for assuming higher levels of systems engineering responsibility within the engineering enterprise."