Systems Analysis: An early history of computing at Miami

“Miami, as a state university, has particular obligation to its students, to its constituency, to the nation and to the times in which we live, to provide a sequentially developed program of systems analysis as a part of our educational offering,” said Charles R. Wilson, the Provost in 1962 and namesake of Wilson Hall, in a letter to the Committee on Educational Policy and Planning.

With that letter, the ball started to roll in creating a systems analysis program as part of the school of applied science. At this time, that school was made up of a paper science program, an industrial technology program, and a home economics program.

Two students in a systems analysis classroom in 1963Two students in a systems analysis classroom in     

New Technology

As crazy as it seems now, where behemoths such as Google, Amazon, and Apple seem to rule the world, the future of computers in the workforce didn’t always seem certain.

According to L.J. Prince, chair of the systems analysis department in a memo written to the other Miami University chairs in 1963, “In an attempt to utilize the potential of the rapidly developing computer, industry has resorted to stop-gap measures that have… failed to produce desired results. Consequently, management has begun to question the effectiveness of computers and other data processing equipment.”

But Prince was convinced that times were changing and that systems analysis was going to be a vital field in the future. He recognized computers were now sophisticated enough to do routine tasks. This better allowed systems analysts to evaluate systems and run simulations to compare alternative systems.

A systems analysis student in 1963A systems analysis student in 1963 working on the
state-of-the-art IBM 1620

Strong Demand

“A new profession has grown out of the mountain of paper work and data the business executive must face very [sic] day. This is systems analysis,” the New York Times Announced in an article titled Systems Analysis New Profession, published on August 4, 1963.

It was clear that companies needed better methods to create diverse, productive, and efficient systems. As the market was becoming more and more competitive, companies had to step up their production and bring costs down. This is where computers and the systems analysts came in.

Progressive Curriculum

In many ways, the systems analysis curriculum of 1963 is similar to the computer science curriculum of 2017. Students took calculus, economics, public speaking, technical writing, and statistics. They also took courses such as English and physical and social sciences, which like those that students now take as part of the Miami Plan. Programming classes taught the students about computer languages and logic. Their computer science courses were done, however, on the big, bulky IBM 1620 machine.

Third-year students had to choose a degree path—either commercial or scientific. At the end, students had an optional research project they could do to showcase their knowledge, like the senior design projects students do now.

The cover of a 1963 pamphlet for systems analysis at Miami

The cover of a 1963 pamphlet for systems analysis      
at Miami

Growing Program

In 1963, the first year of Miami’s Systems analysis program, 125 students took at least one class in it, and fifteen people indicated they were interested in choosing it as a major. By 1982—less than 20 years later—the amount of students trying to get into the systems analysis program was overwhelming.

“If left unchecked, enrollment in Systems Analysis will soon exceed Miami University’s ability to provide adequate educational resources,” said a letter to Miami University’s students from George Bowers, the dean of the school of applied science, and David Haddad, the chair of the systems analysis department.

To be admitted into the systems analysis department, students needed 30 credit hours and two calculus courses. Preference was given to those with a 3.0 or better GPA.

Lasting Legacy

The systems analysis degree morphed into the computer science degree in the mid-2000s, but the impact of systems analysis majors at Miami University continues. A small sample of systems analysis majors that have been heavily involved in CEC recently include Marie Campagna ’74, who created the CEC Women’s Initiative Fund; Louise Morman ’75, who founded and leads the Lockheed Martin Leadership Institute; and several of the successful industry professionals on the External Advisory Council and Women’s Advisory Council.

By Paige Smith