Howard Eisner

Dr. Howard Eisner

Faculty: Emeriti

Professor Emeritus of Engineering Management and Distinguished Research Professor

Howard Eisner grew up in Brooklyn, which he remembers fondly as an "hospitable environment. Not a lot of grass, but a lot of concrete” which he recalls was wonderful for playing games like stickball and basketball. He attended local schools, and decided in his senior year of high school that he wanted to become an engineer: “I looked at what I did well and I looked at what I might be able to earn a living doing, and it was either teaching or engineering as an industrial job. And at the time, I didn’t know which I’d go into but I knew that engineering was the right place for me.” He initially attended Brooklyn College and after two years transferred to City College to finish his bachelors in engineering. After graduating, Eisner continued on to earn his masters in electrical engineering from Columbia University. He began his teaching career by leading courses at both Columbia and Brooklyn college while finishing his degree.

Eisner moved to the D.C. Area in 1959 to begin his corporate career, and a year or two later decided to pursue his doctorate in tandem with his full-time employment. He explains, “I went over to GW school of engineering and I talked to the folks there, and they said, ‘We do need somebody to teach for us. How about you start your doctoral program and teach for us simultaneously?’” He accepted, and recalls of those years that, “It was all fine, all good, but very busy.”

While working part time for his doctorate and teaching, Eisner was employed by what he says he’d “have to call a think tank. We were working largely for the DOD, secondarily for NASA, and thirdly the Department of Transportation.” He achieved his doctorate in 1966 and considered leaving the corporate world for academia, but decided to stay in the industrial world for (as it turned out) another twenty-three years.

Eisner held positions as both Corporate Executive Vice President of Operations Research Incorporated and President of the Intercon Systems Corporation. He asserts, “I enjoyed essentially every minute of it…We had good projects. We worked on modern systems, satellite systems - for example, with NASA. And we did it at a time when there weren’t a whole lot of people who knew a lot about it…” But, in 1989, Eisner says, “I was 54 years old and at a sort of turning point. Basically, saying, ‘Well, here I am in industry and at a certain level of activity…so the question was, do I take another 10 years in this environment or do I try to jump into academia while I’m still relatively young? Well, as it turned out, I went to visit with the Dean here at GW - his name was Liebowitz - and he said, ‘We want you here. Come to GW.’ And I did.”

When Eisner joined the full-time faculty in 1989, he remembers “I sort of became the person…that brought systems engineering to GW. What happened is that the Dean realized I had done that sort of work - in fact, written a book about it - before I got here” and so had asked him to bring that experience to his teaching. When asked to describe systems engineering, Eisner explains: “The world really consists of all of these systems that people are building and installing for us. Systems engineering is the art and the science of doing all that. Of “how do you build large scale systems?” And there are about thirty elements to that.” A key element is called “architecting,” and Eisner considers the new ways of architecting large-scale systems that he developed among his most significant scholarly contributions.

In addition to numerous papers, reports, and tutorials, Eisner has written seven full-length works, including Managing Complex Systems: Thinking Outside the Box (2005) and Topics in Systems (2012). During his tenure at GW, Eisner was also given a grant and supported the Center for Innovative Technology (CIT) which has helped many struggling Virginia-based companies succeed. He was also recognized with an Outstanding Achievement Award by engineering alumni in 1994.

When asked about his plans for the future, Eisner replies, “What I’m thinking is I’ve had two careers - a career in industry for 30 years, and I’ve had a career in academia for 24 years, plus the early days as an adjunct. So I’m really in phase three which is a big question mark right now.  And I’m letting it stay that way for a while” although he notes that he has made a list of things he’d like to do, including teaching seminars and taking up tennis. Additionally, he notes, “There is another book - three books, actually - that I have outlined and  I want to start sometime between now and a year from now.” Overall, though, Eisner says of being an Emeritus, “I’m taking my time and just exploring.”

Education

B.E.E., The City College of  New York, 1957
M.S., Electrical Engineering, Columbia University, 1958
Ph.D., Doctor of Science, The George Washington University, 1966

Audio Clip from Interview