Engineering Our WorldThe e-newsletter of the MIT School of Engineering

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Vol. 1, No. 2, March 2004

Welcome to Engineering Our World, the MIT School of Engineering's free bulletin for alumni and friends. Updated six times yearly, Engineering Our World describes some of the work we're doing at the leading edge of technological change, providing news and articles of the School's major initiatives. Past Issues

MIT Engineering Systems:
Answering the Challenges of a Complex World

by Dean Thomas L. Magnanti

The engineering profession today faces a number of unprecedented challenges, many reflecting the changed context in which engineers practice. It is no longer enough to design a product or a system without accounting for the world in which it will operate.

Today, many large-scale, extraordinarily complicated systems call out for a systems-driven engineering approach. Just consider a few of these critical systems challenges:

  • redesigning transportation systems such as airline, rail, and urban highway systems that have increasingly reached their capacity and created enormous delays;
  • using information technologies to create products that are more timely, less expensive and increasingly responsive to consumer needs;
  • reconciling the inevitable growth in world-wide energy demand with potential environmental costs;
  • creating product development systems that address the full spectrum of conceiving, designing, and developing a new product; and
  • developing manufacturing systems that are more attuned to the human impacts they generate, from wage attenuation and job losses to dislocations linked to globalization.

At MIT, our role is to help meet these and other societal needs, through leadership grounded in technical excellence and innovation. Indeed, we feel an obligation to focus our attention on addressing these challenging issues. We believe that the converging forces of increased system complexity and the social impact of technology -- combined with a need for increased leadership by engineers -- create opportunities for new directions in engineering education and practice. The most successful engineers must possess superb professional skills as engineers, including a keen understanding of social, regulatory, environmental, cultural, and other forces. In short . . . we need Engineering Systems.

How can we educate today's engineers for such unprecedented challenges?