The Council of Engineering Systems Universities (CESUN) was established in 2004 as a group of universities with a common interest: addressing some of the great challenges of the 21st century by advancing engineering systems as a new field of study. We share ideas and experiences, develop joint research programs, provide a community of practice, and create greater visibility for the field.
For engineers, the 21st century poses new types of challenges. The great engineering achievements of the previous century have led to the development and growth of vast systems that are so highly complex that they create problems unlike those with which engineers have traditionally grappled. These are not just challenges of great technical complexity, such as those at the interaction points between the many smaller systems that make up the planet’s great systems of systems. They are also challenges of social and economic complexity.
Over several decades, a new engineering field of study emerged to address these challenges in systems such as energy, communications, transportation, health care, and many others. Engineering systems today encompasses programs that are called many other names, as is clear from the program names at CESUN member institutions. Irrespective of its name, CESUN is, at its core, about bringing to bear engineering knowledge along with research and design to address the great challenges posed by large-scale, interconnected, and therefore highly complex and dynamic, socio-technical systems.
The roots of engineering systems can be found in the evolution of engineering and how engineers have handled greater and greater complexity. As many engineers began to delve deeper and deeper into science, some others stressed the design perspective and explored how to solve the problems arising from greater technical complexity. Operations research, systems and decision analysis, industrial engineering, systems engineering—these all contributed to the expansion of engineering—but at a certain point there was a recognition that some of the greatest challenges were precisely where the technical systems had their interfaces with people, policies, regulations, culture, and behavior. Thus engineering systems was born to deal with these critical new problem components. Both engineering science and engineering systems are needed in the solution of large-scale, complex problems; they complement each other.
Central to engineering systems is a holistic perspective. In engineering systems, the scope of the system under consideration is broadened. Context matters. The lifecycle is key. Technology and people are of equal concern. The models and frameworks are both qualitative and quantitative.
Engineering systems is a field that is eminently practical. The real world is its laboratory. The field of study is concerned with developing and employing new methods and solving real-world problems at the scale of the socio-technical systems in which challenges arise. Engineering systems is, by its very nature, interdisciplinary, bringing together engineering (in all its manifestations), the social sciences, and management. This is necessitated by the nature of the work itself: human actors—their values, motivations, and limitations—are as important a consideration to the engineer as are the technical artifacts and smaller systems that comprise these vast systems.
That is the context for CESUN’s work, which spans the globe. All CESUN members share a commitment to broadening engineering education, research, and practice in engineering systems so that engineers can continue to meet human needs by helping solve the great challenges of today and tomorrow.