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Prof. Zoe Szajnfarber

Professor and Chair of the Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering

Office: 800 22nd St NW, rm 2670, Washington D.C. 20052
Phone: (202) 994-7153

I am a professor of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering (EMSE) and of International Affairs, affiliated with the Space Policy Institute (SPI) at the George Washington University. I currently serve as the Chair of the EMSE Department. I also maintain research affiliations with the MIT Institute for Data Systems and Society (IDSS) and the Laboratory for Innovation Science at Harvard (LISH), where I spent my sabbatical.

I have an interdisciplinary academic and professional background. I joined GW in 2011 after earning a PhD at MIT in Engineering Systems, dual MS degrees in Aeronautics & Astronautics and Technology & Policy, also from MIT, and an BASc in Engineering Science (specializing in aerospace) from the University of Toronto. Outside of Academia, I have worked as a system engineer in large (MDA Space Missions) and small (Dynacon Inc) space contractors and as an innovation advisor to NASA and ESA.

My research focuses on the design and development of complex systems in their socio-technical context. My group publishes across aerospace, systems, design, and management journals. Our work has been recognized by several best paper awards and competitive interdisciplinary grants from the NSF, including a $3M NRT and a $1M INSPIRE award. I currently serve as the vice president of the Council of Engineering Systems UNiversities (CESUN), have held associate/guest editor roles at several major journals and have served on the program committees of CESUN, TMP, IISE and ISA conferences, including serving as general chair for CESUN 2016 and TMP 2019.

I have developed and taught core courses at every level, and have also led several curriculum development efforts. I regularly teach (or taught) undergraduate foundations of system engineering courses (EMSE 1001/2801) masters level management of technical organizations (EMSE 6001) and doctoral lever research methods (EMSE 8000).

Research Team

Dr. Taylan G. Topcu, Postdoc

Research Interests: design of engineered systems, architecture/decomposition theory, safety-critical systems, performance measurement



Jason Crusan, DEng Student

Research Interests: crowd sourcing, concept evaluation



Anthony Hennig, PhD Candidate

Research Interests: complexity, systems design


Nikolai Joseph, DEng Candidate

Research Interests: design team communication, innovation


Shweta Mulcare, DEng Student

Research Interests: system safety, AI/ML integration


Suparna Mukherjee, PhD Candidate

Research Interests: engineering knowledge, system decomposition


Aditya Singh, PhD Student

Research Interests: defense innovation, post production change


Ademir Vrolijk, PhD Candidate

Research Interests: open innovation, problem formulation processes


Hrafnhildur Nielsen, Research Assistant

Research Interests: flexible design, logistics


Doctoral Alumni

Lt. Col. Dr Stephen Sapol, PhD 2021

US Army, Analysis Branch Chief, CENTCOM.

Dissertation title: Change is Hard: Flexibility "of" as a strategy to mitigate implementation uncertainty in design for flexibility.

Dr. Zachary Pirtle, PhD 2019

NASA Program Executive to the NASA Deputy Administrator for Exploration

Dissertation title: Generative Independence: A Programmatic Analysis Framework for Complex Systems Engineering

Dr. Samantha Brainard, PhD 2018

Operations Research Analyst, Department of Defense

Dissertation title: The Impact of Government Oversight on Engineering Work: Insights from a Large Aerospace Contractor

Lt. Col. Prof. Amy Cox, PhD, 2016

Program Chair and Assistant Professor, Air Force Institute of Technology

Dissertation title: Functional Gain and Change Mechanisms in Post-Production Complex Systems.

Dr. Isabel Bignon, PhD, 2015

Associate Project Analyst, IPA

Dissertation title: Scientists, Engineers, or Both? Motives and Preferences of Technical Professionals in Today’s Scientific R&D Organizations.

Dr. Morgan Dwyer (MIT: co-advised with E. Crawley), PhD, 2014

Assistant Director for Defense Science and Technology

Dissertation title: The Cost of Jointness: Insights from Environmental Monitoring Systems in Low Earth Orbit

Former Research Assistants

Several BS and MS students have also spent time working on research in SzajnLab

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