At the 2023 SERC Research Review, Dr. Zoe Szajnfarber was announced as the incoming chief scientist of the Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC). Her official start date is expected to be in early 2024.
As chief scientist, Szajnfarber will lead the SERC Research Council, which plays a formative role in shaping the SERC research portfolio. The outgoing chief scientist, Dr. Dan DeLaurentis, announced Szajnfarber to the SERC’s annual gathering of researchers and government sponsors.
“Zoe is an amazingly accomplished scholar,” DeLaurentis said, “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 will be the SERC’s third chief scientist, following DeLaurentis and the late Dr. Barry Boehm. “I am honored to be selected for this important role,” she said. ‘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.”
Szajnfarber brings a formidable academic foundation to her role, with dual master’s degrees in aeronautics and astronautics and technology policy and a Ph.D. in engineering systems from MIT. Currently, she serves as a professor and chair of the Department of Engineering Management and Systems Engineering at the George Washington University and as chair of the Council of Systems Engineering Universities.
Her expertise ranges from R&D management to space policy, space systems design, and organizational innovation. At the core of her work is a focus on unraveling the nuanced dynamics of innovation within technology-intensive governmental organizations, with a particular emphasis on understanding the intricate correlation between organizational structure and the technical systems they employ.
“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,” said Szajnfarber, whose research has garnered support and funding from NASA, the European Space Agency and NSF. “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.”
John Lach, dean of the School of Engineering and Applied Sciences at the George Washington University, lauded Szajnfarber’s exceptional leadership and problem-solving acumen, highlighting her ability to tackle critical issues within the systems engineering community and beyond.
“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. Zoe is also an outstanding leader and will inspire and coordinate experts across the SERC’s many partner universities.”
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