George Mason University to offer new minor in sustainable systems engineering

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George Mason University’s College of Engineering and Computing will offer a new minor in sustainable systems engineering, partnering with the College of Science and the Institute for a Sustainable Earth, starting in the fall 2024 semester.

Shima Mohebbi, an assistant professor in the Department of Systems Engineering and Operations Research (SEOR), is leading the effort. She said that with the minor the university is meeting student demand, with recent surveys of SEOR’s rising and graduating seniors identifying climate change and social justice as the two top values in selecting companies/projects in determining where they would like to work.

“We are focused on taking the university-wide systems thinking efforts to the next level and transitioning from conceptual frameworks to methodologies and implementation in undergraduate curricula. The Office of the Provost offers grant opportunities supporting course revision and curriculum scaffolding. For further support, we were fortunate enough to be one of the 2023-2024 curriculum impact grant recipients.” Shima Mohebbi

Mohebbi is collaborating with Jennifer Sklarew of the Department of Environmental Science and Policy in the College of Science and Judit Ungvári of the Institute for a Sustainable Earth to incorporate sustainability, social justice, and community engagement into the undergraduate curriculum in systems and industrial engineering.

Shakira Mangrio, a rising senior systems and industrial engineering major, said, “With this minor we are making systems engineering environmentally friendly for the future. In studying systems engineering, we learn about the whole life cycle of systems and this helps us, as engineers, think about the big picture when creating and improving systems. This new minor teaches us how to protect the environment during new projects and upgrading old ones. There's a growing need for people who understand how our actions affect the environment.”

An image representing sustainable systems engineering
Sustainable systems engineering draws from numerous disciplines. Image credit: Engineering for One Planet 

The minor will attract students from across the university, with its cross-discipline appeal. Morgan Pauley, a student from the Schar School of Policy and Government focusing on environmental policy, said, “Having sustainability studies ingrained in as many fields as possible, including government and engineering, is important to creating a resilient future.  Sustainability is and will continue to be a long-term goal for all companies and organizations. By creating this minor, Mason is helping students add practical knowledge and skills to their degree, which will help make students' resumes more appealing and give them a wider range of potential fields that they can work in.”

Mohebbi said numerous things are underway to prepare for the launch, including designing courses, getting mentorship from the provost’s office and Stears Center for Teaching and Learning, and seeking external funding.

At the conclusion of the Spring 2025 semester students who have completed one academic year pursuing the minor will present projects at a one-day workshop, with students and faculty from across the university invited to learn more about the minor. Mohebbi added, “We particularly participate in the Mason Living Lab Initiative with the idea that student projects will benefit our own campus.” Through these projects, the students will partner with Mason’s Fairfax campus community, as well as the surrounding Fairfax County and Fairfax City communities to engage locally in global sustainability challenges involving water, food, energy, and climate change.

(Image provided courtesy Engineering for One Planet, which exists to "integrate sustainability into engineering education to protect and improve our planet and lives.")