Systems Visioneering—a New Class for MITRE InternsFebruary 2018
MITRE doesn't just hire students for the skills they have. We also hire them for ones they can learn.
Like most interns, MITRE's summer hires usually spend their days working with our engineers in the field on projects, doing research, and gaining real-world skills. But for the first time this year, our interns also had the opportunity to enroll in a course at the MITRE Institute—our in-house education, training, and development center—designed specifically for them.
Geared Toward College Students
The class kicked off on July 25, with a small but enthusiastic group of students who joined Steve Scott, a MITRE multi-discipline systems engineer and veteran MITRE Institute instructor. Scott worked with the Institute's Lara Van Nostrand to adapt material from two of his courses into one three-hour intern class on "Systems Visioneering Techniques" and "Survey Design for Systems Engineering."
"'Systems visioneering' is a phrase we coined here at MITRE," Scott says. "We use it as an umbrella term for various types of interactive and collaborative problem-solving techniques that you apply at the front end of the systems engineering process."
He designed the systems visioneering portion of the class to help students think about how to develop a shared understanding of a problem using collaborative and interactive brainstorming methods. "I introduced the students to collaborative methods derived from Gray, Brown, and Macanufo's book, GameStorming," Scott says. "Then they worked as teams to develop innovative solutions to a specified problem."
The survey design portion of the class illustrated the process of designing a survey, including determining the information need, instrument design, questionnaire design and wording biases, survey field operations, and data post-processing and presentation. Students then developed a short survey to determine attitudes and perceptions of a target population for a question of interest.
Techniques Applied to a Real-World Problem
Scott wanted the interns to use what they learned on an issue they could relate to. So he asked them to consider the problem of the high cost of college tuition and ways to address it. The class used systems visioneering to look at developing innovative ways to reduce tuition costs. The survey design activities focused on examining how the various stakeholders in the college ecosystem would be affected by proposed solutions.
"They came up with a good mix of ideas," Scott says. "They had some interesting spins on funding and how students could be a part of the solution. It's a problem that affects them directly, and they used many of the techniques from the class to help define the problem and find ways to address it."
The class earned high praise from the interns. "I feel like I absorbed more information at this class than I normally do at college. I'll be using what I learned here in future group work, both professionally and academically," says Austin Downing, an industrial and systems engineering major from Virginia Tech.
Jenny Wu, a computer science major from the University of Virginia, found the class "to be very helpful and was time well spent."
Avri Parker, a computer science major from the University of Southern California, said the class gave her valuable insight into engineering as a career. "I thought the systems visioneering class was really interesting. I didn't know what exactly systems engineering was as a field and what systems engineers do at MITRE, so it was very helpful."
Dev Das, a computer science major from the University of Virginia, felt he benefited from the small-group learning environment. "I really enjoyed the small setting of the systems visioneering class, where each of the students could talk with one another or with the instructor. It made things easy to understand if you needed help. I also liked the amount of collaborative work we did."
Scott says he's glad the MITRE Institute reached out to him about adapting the class for the summer interns. "I really appreciated the students' inputs and participation. They brought an interesting perspective to the conversation, and I loved having the opportunity to work with them."
—by Kay M. Upham