Systems, civil engineering departments consider merging

Potential new department would offer two degree programs,

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The merge could potentially allow for more interdisciplinary research because both departments have an “integrated systems view” of looking at problems.

Marshall Bronfin | Cavalier Daily

The Systems and Information Engineering Department and Civil and Environmental Engineering Department in the Engineering School are currently discussing plans to combine into one department with two separate degree programs.

Barry Horowitz, a systems and information engineering professor and chair of his department, credited Engineering School Dean Craig Benson with the original idea to merge departments.

“The dean did come into the school with the idea that we could consolidate departments and get more mass into each department, so we could be competitive on a research front with larger institutions,” Horowitz said. “He thinks that if we find opportunistic ways to consolidate, we could find more ways to be influential on the research front and also gain more recognition as a university.”

Benson referred The Cavalier Daily to Horowitz when contacted for this article.

According to Horowitz, Benson suggested the departments consolidate and turned the decision to the departments themselves. Both departments began seriously discussing the merge early this semester.

The merge could potentially allow for more interdisciplinary research because both departments have an “integrated systems view” of looking at problems.

“More and more so, across the country, we see departments that are combined because of the interdisciplinary nature that research is taking,” Horowitz said. “So we’ve been looking at, as a systems department, if we wanted to consolidate with another department, which would make sense ... Now we’re at the point where we’ve defined our research mission that we think their department could help ours and our department could help theirs if it was a joint research mission.”

Prof. Brian Smith, chair of the Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, said he believes a possible consolidation would benefit not only undergraduate majors but also interdisciplinary graduate research.

“[The merge is] a way to take advantage of the complementary expertise of the two departments and in a way to really strengthen the systems engineering degree program and the civil engineering degree program,” Smith said. “We’re going to look for ways to work together to make these two different degrees better.”

Smith said the two departments began discussing merging because of the similarities in how civil and systems engineers solve problems in the real world.

“We both deal with really complex systems that require the integration of a wide range of technologies,” Smith said. “How we approach problems is really similar, in many cases the problems that we deal with are very similar, sometimes even the same, quite frankly.”

Faculty groups in both departments have been most involved in discussions so far, but the discussions are beginning to engage student input.

Horowitz said the departments wanted to have enough decisions hammered out before asking for input from current students and alumni.

“We’re well along, but not sufficiently that all the stakeholders around us have been engaged in a sufficient manner,” Horowitz said. “And we haven’t gotten the details sorted out sufficiently yet to feel like we’re able to go to them.”

Horowitz said he hopes that in the next few weeks the faculty will agree on enough details to expand the discussion to include more stakeholders at the University.

While there is not a finalized plan and no set date for a vote, Smith said he expects the two departments will come to a decision before the semester ends. Smith said he believes a potential consolidation would not cause an immediate change in the Engineering School.

“It’s going to be a long-term thing,” Smith said. “It’s going to evolve, and that’s a good thing.”

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