AE to Offer Systems Engineering Master's Degree


AE Alumni Board member Steven J. D’Urso has joined the Department to administer the new Aerospace Systems Engineering (SE) master’s degree program that will begin this fall.

Steven J. D'Urso
Steven J. D'Urso

Finishing the non-thesis curriculum in one year, students in the program will receive a good foundation in the methods and tools involved in defining and managing complex, multidisciplinary aerospace design projects. “We want to get engineers to consider total system thinking: the big picture instead of ‘I’ll just do my part and pass it on,’” D’Urso said. He said the program is one of the first of its kind offered in U.S. universities.

D’Urso, BS 78 mechanical engineering and MS 89 AE, comes to the Department after gaining over 30 years experience in St. Louis aerospace industries, having worked for both The Boeing Company and the McDonnell Douglas Company.

With the help of AE graduate student Drew Ahern, D’Urso plans to run the new master’s program as a mock professional experience for the students. “I will deal with the students as though I am an engineering manager in a company and they’re the engineers. They’ll have to give a report in the class. When they have completed the course, they’ll have to have some idea of what requirement analysis is. They will need to understand the theory behind why we are doing what we are doing and how to judge what’s a good requirement.”

D’Urso said students entering the program this fall will produce a set of requirements for a large, complex aerospace system or space exploration system, then will write a systems engineering master plan to carry out the project. The students will work in integrated teams, with individuals performing pieces of the puzzle.

The requirements the program’s students develop could be passed to the following academic year’s AE seniors for use in their design course.

Students wanting to enter the new SE program will need to have completed a capstone design-oriented course, and will have to take graduate-level courses in the three core areas of aerospace engineering. 

D’Urso earned his own master’s degree in AE through a distance-learning program while he was working in St. Louis. He continued his relationship with the Department in the 1990s, working with Kenneth R. Sivier, now an AE emeritus associate professor, to teach a once-a-week lecture series to AE students.

AE Alumni Board member Steven J. D'Urso has joined the Department to administer the new Aerospace Systems Engineering (SE) master's degree program that will begin this fall.
AE Alumni Board member Steven J. D'Urso has joined the Department to administer the new Aerospace Systems Engineering (SE) master's degree program that will begin this fall.

Through the course and collaborating with Professor Sivier’s capstone design class, D’Urso assigned each student with the task of designing a multi-mission, tactical aircraft. The result was individual designs unique to each of the 70-some students. D’Urso took the students’ experiences back to his team in St. Louis as they considered real criteria and implementation for developing a multi-role air vehicle configuration design.

“Working with the U of I allowed us to do something that scope would not allow us to do ourselves,” D’Urso said. “We didn’t have the quickie tools and methods available – what we had was like driving a tack with a sledgehammer. (Our company) gained a lot of insight through our relationship with the department.”

Excited about the new program’s possibilities, D’Urso will share with the students his own real-life experiences gained by spending the past 11 years of his career as a systems engineer and systems engineering manager. D’Urso, an Associate Fellow of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, is also a member and past director of the St. Louis Section of the International Council on Systems Engineering.

In addition to his own experiences, D’Urso will teach the students lessons other aerospace engineers have learned throughout the past. “Lessons of history will come up with all this operations context. I want to make this real,” he said. 

“A lot of people think that design is an art, because there’s not one answer. (Systems engineering) takes the art part out and puts order to the chaos,” D’Urso maintains. “Design is not a process; design is a strategy. You use tools and processes that you have along the line that work.” Systems Engineering provides some of those tools and processes.

Students interested in enrolling in the new program can learn more online at or can contact D’Urso, sjdursoatillinois [dot] edu, or Program Coordinator, Graduate Programs, Staci Tankersley, at tankatillinois [dot] edu.