MIT Faculty Newsletter  
Vol. XVII No. 1
September/October 2004
Welcome Aboard President-elect Hockfield!
The Management of the MIT Endowment
Affirming Freedom of Expression at MIT
Teaching this fall? You should know . . .
Preliminary Position of the Faculty Policy Committee on Faculty Governance
Developing Musical Structures:
A Reflective Practicuum
Work of the Committee on the Undergraduate Program, 2003 – 2004
Task Force on the Undergraduate Educational Commons
Some Reflections on Aspects of the Undergraduate Education Policy
Benefit Changes for Faculty
Upon Retirement
Short Takes
Establishing Leadership in the Emerging Field of Engineering Systems
Concerto for Erhu and Subway
Spaces, Software, and Services –
Supporting Educational Innovation and Sustainability with Technology
Web Accessibility:
What Faculty Should Know
What Was it Like Working with OCW?
Printable Version

Establishing Leadership in the Emerging Field
of Engineering Systems

Daniel Hastings and Daniel Roos

In December 1998, the School of Engineering established a second new division, the Engineering Systems Division (ESD), which focuses on the engineering of complex systems. ESD's creation responds to the rapidly evolving field of engineering where there is a need for the development of new approaches, frameworks, and theories to better understand engineering systems behavior and design. It also responds to a need within the School of Engineering for the development and support of educational programs on complex systems and design synthesis that will prepare students for leadership positions.

To quote from a recent letter from Dean 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 ."

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To fully appreciate complex engineering systems requires an integrative holistic view that bridges traditional engineering approaches with insights from management and social science.

Therefore, ESD is an integrative effort that cuts across the School of Engineering departments, the Sloan School of Management, and the School of Humanities and Social Sciences. The Division has over 40 faculty members including two Institute Professors (Joel Moses and Sheila Widnall). All ESD faculty have either a joint or dual appointment with another academic unit. [The dual faculty appointment was introduced when the two new Divisions were formed in the School of Engineering. Dual faculty share their time equally between two units; the division and a department.] These shared appointments enable ESD faculty to work with their engineering departments on system related initiatives.

Overall, the Division provides an institutional framework and intellectual home for engineering systems faculty to develop and support system oriented educational and research programs, facilitate the admission of students to various interdisciplinary academic programs, and provide governance on key issues such as faculty hires, promotion, and tenure.

ESD brings together several systems-oriented educational professional programs and research centers that were developed at MIT over the past several decades. Five Master's-level interdisciplinary professional practice educational programs at the Institute are serving over 300 students today. These programs include Leaders for Manufacturing (LFM), System Design and Management (SDM), Technology and Policy Program (TPP), ESD SM, and Master of Engineering in Logistics (MLOG). The ESD research centers are the Center for Innovation in Product Development (CIPD), Center for Technology, Policy and Industrial Development (CTPID), and Center for Transportation & Logistics (CTL). Like the ESD academic programs, these centers are interdisciplinary, involving faculty from engineering, management, and the social sciences

ESD builds upon these pre-existing educational programs and research centers. The mission of the Division is to create a new field of study and to broaden Engineering education and practice. To accomplish this mission ESD has launched several new educational and research initiatives described below.


ESD received approval from the MIT faculty in 2003 to offer a Doctoral program. The mission of the program is to undertake fundamental in-depth research oriented around theory, policy, and practice associated with engineering systems. All doctoral students take a core composed of courses in system theory, quantitative methods, and socio/technical contexts. The ESD PhD acquired the interdisciplinary Technology, Policy and Management (TMP) PhD. It currently has some 40 doctoral students including students from the legacy TMP program.

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The Engineering Systems Symposium

On March 29-31, 2004, the Engineering Systems Symposium brought over 360 leading academics, industry, and government representatives, and students to MIT to learn about the emerging field of Engineering Systems and to consider ways to work together. In the opening session, Dr. Vest noted, "This is a remarkable, perhaps historic, event of great import to engineering education and to our Institution. If we are to continue to be a great Engineering school in the future and help address complex problems like anti-terrorism, the Columbia Shuttle tragedy, globalization and sustainability in ways that benefit humankind, we will need to be great in Engineering Systems." In addition to Dr. Vest, speakers included MIT School of Engineering Dean Thomas Magnanti; Institute Professor Sheila Widnall; William Wulf, president of the National Academy of Engineering, Dr. Joseph Bordogna, deputy director of the National Science Foundation, and Travis Engen, president of Alcan. Several of the presentations are available on MIT World at

A key feature of the Symposium was the release of the Engineering Systems Monograph by ESD faculty and staff. In addition to a paper by Dan Roos on the history leading to ESD's creation and a paper by Daniel Hastings on ESD's future and the creation of Engineering Systems leaders, there are six papers on the foundations of Engineering Systems. A framing paper on foundational issues by Joel Moses is followed by five papers on various aspects of the field. Dan Whitney was principal author of a paper on systems architecture, Richard de Neufville played a similar role in a paper on uncertainty, Tom Allen wrote on enterprise systems, David Marks on sustainability, and Nancy Leveson on systems safety. The Monograph papers can be found at The remaining papers presented at the Symposium can be viewed at

At the Symposium, Dan Roos announced that over 20 of the top engineering schools in the U.S. and Europe have agreed to work collaboratively to define and evolve the field of Engineering Systems by sharing educational materials and information on job opportunities for PhDs in Engineering Systems, and holding inter-university student colloquia.

New Research

ESD's TPP program, along with the Center for International Studies (CIS), the Department of Political Science, and the Science, Technology, and Society (STS) program was awarded $2.9 million from the National Science Foundation's prestigious Integrative Graduate Education and Research Traineeship (IGERT) Program for a multidisciplinary program on assessing effects of emerging technologies.

The Program on Emerging Technologies (PoET) is led by four principal investigators: ESD/TPP's Daniel Hastings and Dava Newman; Kenneth Oye of the Department of Political Science, ESD, and CIS, and Merritt Roe Smith of STS. A workshop entitled "Emerging Technologies: Recognizing Uncertainty and Assessing Implications" (also the fourth annual TPP symposium) was held on April 12, 2004. More information is available at

ESD's Center for Transportation & Logistics signed a multi-year, multi-million dollar agreement with the government of Aragón, Spain, to help create an international education and research program in logistics and supply chain management. The MIT-Zaragoza International Logistics Program is part of a large-scale initiative to develop the Aragón region of Spain, around its capital city of Zaragoza, into a significant logistics center in Europe. The MIT-Zaragoza International Logistics Program is the Center's flagship effort. In addition to conducting cutting-edge research, CTL will work with the Zaragoza Logistics Center to offer graduate and executive education in logistics to students from around the world. The offerings will include a Master's degree modeled on MIT's Master of Engineering in Logistics (MLOG), a Doctoral degree, and a set of executive education courses leading to certificates in various logistics-related disciplines.

The Future

ESD is working concertedly to build upon this foundation and to strengthen its leadership position. With our interdisciplinary faculty, new PhD program and research programs, we have laid the groundwork for continuing to define and develop the new field of Engineering Systems. However, there is much work to be done. We have made an excellent start on defining the intellectual foundations of engineering systems and in the future years we will deliver on that promise. ESD is taking a leadership role in engaging the extended community, including students, faculty, alums, partner companies, and staff within ESD, and reaching out into the world of academia, government, and industry at large. We are building a lifelong learning community that encourages active and sustained partnership from all of our constituencies over the short and long term.

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