HOBOKEN, N.J. -- At a ceremony here April 18, the U.S. Army Research Development and Engineering Command (RDECOM) signed on with the nation's leading systems engineering professors who are collaborating across the nation to meet a Defense Department need to reclaim excellence in a critical skill.

Signing a Cooperative Research and Development Agreement (CRADA) were the Commanding General of RDECOM, Maj. Gen. Nickolas Justice and George Korfiatis, provost and interim president of Stevens Institute of Technology, who signed the document at his campus for the Systems Engineering Research Center (SERC).

The SERC is a collaborative network of 20 U.S. research institutions and over 200 researchers. Among its centers are the University of Southern California, Purdue, Texas A&M and the Naval Postgraduate School. It is designated a University Affiliated Research Program by the Defense Department to ensure that essential engineering and technology capabilities of importance to the DoD are maintained.

The CRADA provides a partnership framework where academics in the SERC can perform technical tasks that deliver state-of-the-art research to RDECOM engineers who develop complex systems for Soldiers. "It represents the future in terms of how the university researcher, government and industry can collaborate in a very meaningful and big way," said Korfiatis.

Within the SERC, each partner institution takes a lead role researching various aspects of the systems engineering discipline. Topic examples include, "systems thinking," "human/technology interaction in complex systems," "life cycle models," and "practices and tools."

The new partnership avails the open and unbounded aspects of the academic environment to the Army's systems engineers. "It's an environment where industry, people from government and academic institutions can attain clarity, and clarity means solutions," said Justice. "It builds on an opportunity for our young engineers to continue to grow in an ever evolving academic field."

For the SERC, the partnership will advance systems engineering models, methods, principles and practices as they work on projects with the engineers in RDECOM who work closely with military system users - the Soldiers - giving academics valuable insights into the needs that drive development of complex systems, said Korfiatis.

"Academics produce their best products when they are engaged with people in the field," said Kristen Baldwin, Principal Deputy, Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defense, Systems Engineering. "Systems engineering is a field discipline."

SERC research is transferred into systems engineering degree programs, according to the SERC website: http://www.sercuarc.org.

The website addresses the SERC's goal to meet systems engineering's current challenges in its role as the integrating discipline among more specific engineering disciplines: A perception that it is unable to keep up with the existing complexity, collaboration and pace of technology, and engineering's recent focus on highly specialized technical areas without predicting the subtleties of the interactions between those areas.

Falling short of the demand for systems engineering skills would create a "critical crisis," said Justice. Interest in systems engineering had once been more "vibrant," and the new partnership is an opportunity: "This can spark a resurgence in systems engineering as a field of interest, as it was during the post World War II period and with the space program."

Korfiatis said the partnership would lead to a pipeline that helps transition personnel between the government and academic worlds. "Leaders in the Army recognize the value of a well-educated and talented workforce, he said. "We're doing the best that we can in the partner universities to provide such a pipeline for you."

Baldwin said the CRADA will create new opportunities for strong relationships that exist between RDECOM centers and academic institutions, like New Jersey's Armament Research and Engineering Center and Stevens Institute of Technology; Alabama's University of Alabama Huntsville and the Aviation and Missile Research Development and Engineering Center, and Detroit's Wayne State and the Tank and Automotive Research Development and Engineering Center.

Director of the ARDEC, Gerardo Melendez, said he hopes word will travel among his scientists and engineers about the potential for the new arrangement. "It's a tremendous capability that is now available to them," he said.

"The Army is leading the way, out front, on point, in establishing the strategic relationship with the SERC," said Baldwin.