Engineering systems increase in complexity every day, requiring governmental organizations to look to systems engineering experts, like Professor Zoe Szajnfarber from GW Engineering, to aid them in overcoming their associated challenges. As part of its 15th annual research review on November 15, 2023, the Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC) announced that Szajnfarber will serve as its third Chief Scientist.
Established in 2008, the SERC was the first University Affiliated Research Center (UARC) structured as a network of universities. Over the years, the network has grown to more than 20 collaborating Universities with annual expenditures exceeding $25 million. Conceived with a vision of serving as a national resource to solve systems challenges of national and global significance, the SERC has also had a transformative impact on the Systems Engineering discipline.
“The problems that the SERC addresses are both incredibly important and extremely complex, and Zoe Szajnfarber has an extraordinary ability to seek out and solve such problems, making tremendous impacts in many critical areas,” said John Lach, Dean of GW Engineering. “Zoe is also an outstanding leader and will inspire and coordinate experts across the SERC’s many partner universities.”
As Chief Scientist, Szajnfarber will lead the SERC Research Council, composed of senior systems researchers across the country, who inform and drive research and technical strategy. Szajnfarber joins a proud tradition of Chief Scientists who are respected researchers with broad impact beyond academia. The first SERC Chief Scientist, Barry Boehm of the University of Southern California, was known as a “living legend” of systems and software engineering who made significant contributions across both disciplines. He was followed by Dan DeLaurentis, who is now Vice President for Research Institutes and Centers and the Bruce Reese Professor of Aeronautics and Astronautics at Purdue University.
DeLaurentis announced Szajnfarber as the next Chief Scientist, saying, “Zoe is an amazingly accomplished scholar and brings a diversity of experiences that I am absolutely convinced is going to take the SERC and our research to the next level.”
Szajnfarber studies the design and development of complex systems for long, uncertain lifetimes, drawing on research methods across engineering and the social sciences. Her research insights aim to inform practice, with results featured in briefings by NASA leaders, National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine reports, and the White House’s Office of Science Technology and Policy workshops.
“One of my strengths as a researcher has always been hearing pressing problems and figuring out what research can be done to address them or move the conversation forward. As I’ve matured, I’ve tried to take this approach to the next level and build teams of researchers to address these problems, and also help decision-makers clarify the nature of their problems,” said Szajnfarber.
Concurrent with her role as Chief Scientist, Szajnfarber is also the Chair of the Council of Systems Engineering Universities (CESUN), which has a complementary mandate to foster community across academics focused on complex systems. Relevant to the SERC’s workforce development mandate, she has been involved in several curriculum assessments and redesigns and is the Principal Investigator of GW’s first NSF Research Traineeship (NRT) on the Co-Design of Trustworthy AI in Work Systems.
“I was honored to be selected for this important role. For many years, I have admired the SERC’s ability to drive deep systems research with real-world impact. As Chief Scientist, I hope to continue supporting that trend as the research network takes on new challenges. I came to GW because of a culture that supports problem-driven research with real-world importance, and I see our membership in the SERC network as an opportunity to extend that reach,” said Szajnfarber when asked about her appointment.
Ekundayo Shittu, Professor and Chair of the Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering, was more effusive, saying, “As the Department Chair, I am thrilled to celebrate the exceptional achievement of Dr. Zoe Szajnfarber on her esteemed appointment as the Chief Scientist of the Systems Engineering Research Council (SERC). This honor not only epitomizes the individual brilliance and dedication that Dr. Zoe Szajnfarber has consistently demonstrated in the course of her professorship, but it also symbolizes the pinnacle of expertise within the Engineering Management and Systems Engineering (EMSE) department. As she assumes the role of SERC’s Chief Scientist, her accomplishments bring unbridled honor not only to herself but also to the EMSE department. This appointment further underscores the caliber of talent and groundbreaking research emanating from the GW ecosystem, solidifying our commitment to excellence, innovation, and research with impact. We take pride in this achievement, as it reflects the synergy between individual success, departmental prowess, and the overarching mission of our institution to push the boundaries of knowledge and contribute meaningfully to the advancement of science and society. This is a perfect exemplification and personification of our slogan at GW, ‘Raise High.’”