LAFAYETTE — The University of Louisiana at Lafayette has added a new doctoral program in systems engineering to its Graduate School offerings.

The doctoral program was approved by the Louisiana Board of Regents last week.

“It’s the first Ph.D. in systems engineering in the state,” said Mark Zappi, dean of ULL’s College of Engineering.

The program prepares engineers — of all disciplines — to manage and problem-solve complex engineering systems, such as coastal engineering, aircraft; or aerospace design and manufacturing and power grids, Zappi explained.

He likened the systems engineer role to that of an orchestral conductor whose job is to ensure individual musicians work together to produce beautiful music. Such skills are in demand now, Zappi said.

“We wanted a degree that industry will look at and say, ‘That’s what we want right now,’” he said. “We feel like this is another offering that the state of Louisiana can use to attract Fortune 500 companies in our state.”

While doctoral-level engineering programs of study are available at other state universities, the program is the first in Louisiana offered in systems engineering, according to the Board of Regents’ staff analysis of the ULL program proposal.

Few doctoral programs in systems engineering exist in the United States, with many of them offering one or two classes on systems engineering, Zappi said.

The ULL program is an integration of a traditional engineering doctorate program with eight additional systems engineering courses, he said.

The ULL program is most similar to systems engineering programs offered at George Mason University, in Washington, D.C., and Massachusetts Institute of Technology, in Boston, Zappi said.

ULL’s proposal was reviewed by George Mason’s Ariela Sofer, professor and chair of George Mason’s College of Engineering Department of Systems and Operations Research.

Sofer “noted the program would certainly help address the critical national shortage in expert engineers who have a comprehensive systems perspective,” according to Regents staff.

Planning for the new doctoral program began four years ago with the college revamping and also eliminating some of its programs to ensure no financial burden on the university or state, Zappi said.

The systems engineering doctoral program will begin in the spring at no additional cost using existing faculty and resources, Zappi said.

However, according to the Regents’ staff report to the board, $200,000 will be needed by the program’s third year and an estimated $128,000 in the fourth year to support new faculty and equipment as the program grows. But revenue growth from program tuition is expected to offset the cost.

The first group of students will be accepted in the spring semester and at least 10 engineering students are ready to move into the program now, Zappi said.