First Penn State students graduate from online engineering program

August 13, 2010

University Park, Pa. — Neil Barnas has just completed a rigorous master’s degree program at Penn State, but instead of joining fellow graduates for commencement ceremonies Aug. 14, at University Park campus, the Air Force captain will be preparing for his new assignment at the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter Program Office, a Department of Defense unit involved with aircraft weapon systems for the U.S military and its allies. Barnas is one of 27 working professionals from around the nation who are the first graduates of the new Master of Engineering in Systems Engineering program offered by Penn State Great Valley School of Graduate Professional Studies and delivered online through the University’s World Campus.

“I wanted a quality education that would make a difference in my career. Penn State really sets itself apart in that regard,” said Barnas, 31, who is transitioning from flight commander in the 36th Electronic Warfare Squadron at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida to the F-35 program in Arlington, Va. He previously led a team of 50 military and civilian engineers working with electronic warfare threat data files for the B-1, B-2, F-16 and F-22.

“It’s working professionals like Neil Barnas that Penn State is trying to reach with online education programs,” said Wayne Smutz, executive director of World Campus and associate vice president for Academic Outreach. “Adult learners need accessible education options to keep their knowledge base fresh and their skills updated.”

That’s what Penn State Great Valley’s engineering faculty had in mind when they developed the systems engineering program for online delivery two years ago, said James A. Nemes, D.Sc., division head and professor of mechanical engineering at Penn State Great Valley.

Systems engineering is a holistic approach to managing complex engineering projects that was first developed in the aerospace industry and the military, but is being adapted by other industries. Courses emphasize the identification, modeling, analysis, architecture, integration and management of complex systems and processes.

“We’re thrilled to have the first group of students graduate,” Nemes said. “The degree gives them the skills they need to be successful systems engineers.”

For Barnas, the married father of a toddler, the degree will help advance his career. He develops and fields “aircraft, weapons and systems that meet the war-fighters’ needs on time and on schedule. Managing the complexity of weapons systems is perhaps the greatest challenge we face. This degree has provided me the tools and experience I need to meet that challenge.”

For more information, visit Penn State’s online master of engineering in systems engineering at

Penn State World Campus specializes in adult online education, delivering more than 70 of Penn State’s most highly regarded graduate, undergraduate and professional education programs through convenient online formats. Founded in 1998, Penn State World Campus is the University’s 25th campus serving more than 9,600 students in all 50 states and 62 countries. For more information, visit online. Penn State World Campus is part of Penn State Outreach, the largest unified outreach organization in American higher education. Penn State Outreach serves more than 5 million people each year, delivering more than 2,000 programs to people in all 67 Pennsylvania counties, all 50 states and 114 countries worldwide.

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Last Updated November 18, 2010