Incorporating MBSE in Systems Engineering Curriculum


By Mallory Jones

In the world of systems engineering, one notion can be agreed on: the future of systems engineering is model-based. This is not a bold statement; it comes straight from the newest Systems Engineering Vision, 2035. However, if this is the case, then why are students studying to become systems engineers at the undergraduate and graduate levels not being taught this fundamental concept? Why are they not taught model-based systems engineering as a mechanism for solving systems engineering problems? 

I graduated from George Mason University (GMU) with a bachelor’s degree in systems engineering in the spring of 2020. During my four years at GMU, none of the standard systems engineering courses dove into Model-Based Systems Engineering (MBSE) concepts. However, one semester in the second year was spent learning the basics of Vitech’s CORE, a MBSE tool. We were thrown into practicing CORE with one systems engineering introductory course under our belts. We never returned to the tool, or any other MBSE platforms, for the remainder of the systems engineering program. If MBSE is the future, then its future leaders and innovators should not have to teach themselves model-based systems engineering post-college, as I did starting my career. 

Model-Based systems engineering not only turns information into data using diagrams and relationships between entities in the diagrams, but it also provides a means for turning data into results during modeling and simulation. These results are the key to making informed decisions while designing or maintaining systems. In addition to the inclusion of model-based topics and tools, languages must also be incorporated in systems engineering programs to perform this modeling and simulation with accuracy. The rules and regulations following each systems engineering language are the cornerstones to creating meaningful models.

It is also important to establish the difference between these systems engineering tools, such as Innoslate, Cameo, and MagicDraw, and design engineering tools, including MATLAB, Ansys, and Autodesk. During GMU’s systems engineering bachelor program, we were taught how to perform design analysis in platforms such as Arena and MATLAB. However, these are not MBSE tools, and these are not systems engineering duties. The design engineering tool allows industry-specific engineers to conduct their analyses and report results to the systems engineer. The systems engineer then uses this data in the MBSE tools to conduct higher-level work such as generating higher fidelity diagrams and simulations and making decisions throughout the system lifetime. So as the systems engineer, this design analysis should be conducted prior to the modeling of systems.

Teaching students all of these concepts would be impossible to cover in a single course; however, students must be made aware of their existence and have a basic understanding of how to utilize the language in the tool to support systems engineering lifecycle models. A simple correction to any systems engineering program could include:

Order Course Concepts
First Systems Engineering and Systems Lifecycle Models Lifecycle Models Examples: Agile, SE Vee, Spiral, Waterfall
Second Model-Based Systems Engineering Supporting Systems Engineering Diagrams to support lifecycle phases and to support documentation
Third MBSE Language and Tools Languages Examples: LML, SysML, UAF, UML
MBSE Tools Examples: Cameo, Innoslate, MagicDraw, NoMagic
Final Capstone with MBSE Focus Real-world example of using languages, models, and tools

To bring together these courses and their content, it is imperative to put this knowledge into action with real-world examples during the final capstone course of the systems engineering program.  This is when the students shall choose what language and tool to use to solve their given systems engineering problem and exemplify real model-based systems engineering.

Note to Professors: SPEC Innovations helps professors at academic institutions with incorporating model-based systems engineering practices into their curriculum. Professors can request textbooks and lab manuals, access to MBSE software, and a completed lab manual project. Students might benefit from a walkthrough of the MBSE software, Innoslate, provided by one of our systems engineers. Innoslate is free for academic purposes. We need to give students the skills to better prepare them for the industry. Contact us to learn more about adding MBSE into your classroom.

Note to Students: The industry wants to move from document-centric to model-based. SPEC Innovations provides resources to students to help them gain the skills they need before they enter the workforce. Innoslate is free for academic students and offers free support and documentation to help you. Learn more here.