2016 Farewell

Goodbye 2016; farewell!  From a macro perspective, 2016 left a lot to be desired; on a day-to-day level, life wasn’t too bad.  Here’s my annual reflection of our research group’s happenings.


Fabiana’s farewell dinner. Front: Munira, Fabiana, Kaan, Burcu (Kaan’s wife); Back: Shahab, Jen; Missing: Uzma

I have a great research team, which in 2016 included 4 Ph.D. students, a flock of undergraduate students, and an excellent visiting research scholar.  I genuinely enjoyed thinking about and exploring research with them.

Uzma Mushtaque completed her candidacy proposal in Fall 2016 on Context-dependent discrete choice models and assortment optimization for online retail. Her research develops new mathematical models for personalized recommendations capturing different context-effects associated with individual user selection behavior found in the marketing and behavioral research. If you have ever tried to watch something on Netflix, but after searching through their many options, left without watching anything, you could benefit from her research.  A central research question in her dissertation is ‘how many items to recommend in an online environment?’

In 2016, the world discovered what I have known for a while: Shahab Mofidi is a rising star.  This is evident in the number of national and institute-wide awards he was awarded, including:

  • Awarded the Institute of Industrial and System Engineer (IISE) E. J. Sierleja Memorial Fellowship for the next academic year;
  • Awarded the Tompkins International Honor Scholarship for the 2016/2017 academic year from the Material Handling Education Foundation, Inc.
  • Awarded the New York Capital Region Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals scholarship
  • Awarded a 2016 Founders Award from RPI, which “honors students who embody qualities of creativity, discovery, leadership, and the values of pride and responsibility at Rensselaer.”
  • Participated in ComSciCon a communicating science workshop for graduate students at Cornell.

Shahab played a dedicated and instrumental role in preparations for an NSF grant proposal I submitted this summer.  His current research has applications in peer-to-peer resource sharing systems.  In such systems, a central mechanism is needed to facilitate the interactions between users.  Shahab’s research uses a bi-level modeling approach to capture discretion levels of users.  This spring he will complete his Ph.D. candidacy exam and will be on the job market in the fall.

Two Ph.D. students joined our research group this fall.  Kaan Unnu arrives with a wealth of knowledge having spent 7 years as a Production Planning & Quality Manager in the automotive industry.  Prior to that, he worked for 3 years as a Logistics manager of a plastic/paper packaging company.  Kaan’s years working hands-on applying industrial engineering techniques in practice and his maturity have allowed him to quickly jump into the research.  His dissertation research is on designing models to evaluate on-demand logistics services.  We plan to develop optimization models both from a lender of space and a user of space perspective.  The models will be used to capture trade-offs and simulate different scenarios to answer questions like: In what environments should a company build, lease with a 3PL, or go on demand?  Of particular interest is to quantify the benefits of on-demand systems in different environments.  For example, what is the value of access to scale, smaller commitment granularity, or smaller capacity granularity?

Munira Shahir arrives to our group after completing her BS in mathematics from University of Maryland Baltimore County.  Her proposed research is on disaster response logistics, especially focusing on the material convergence problem — in which too often resources donated in disasters are not useful.  “Helping is not always helping” because low priority or not needed donations utilize valuable resource capacities and actually delay processing of needed resources to effected areas. So, please think twice about donating that winter coat to survivors of a natural disaster from a tropical area!    Through modeling, we want to quantify the impact of a more represented mix of incoming donated resources.  Our models will be used to explore and identify strategies able to effectively serve the impacted areas, as well as utilize resources donated.  Some ideas include triage systems, and on-demand Uber-like systems for better coordination.

A flock of undergraduate students have been involved in our research group in 2016.  Outcomes included Joan Climes presenting her work on ship-from-store order fulfillment at the 2016 RPI Undergraduate Research Symposium; Ian Shin co-authoring a book chapter on “Logistics Models to Support Order-Fulfillment from the Sea” for the 2016 Progress in Material Handling Research, and Zach Shearin’s paper “The NHL Playoff Picture”, which analyzed the NHL’s point system through an operations research and statistical analysis lens accepted to the MIT Sloan’s Sports Analytics Conference.  Other students researched on-demand peer-to-peer resource sharing, disaster response coordination, and sea-based logistics models.


The Palleteers.  Andres Carrano has done a great job capturing our contributions to the design of sustainable pallet management here:

Palleteers: Noun, defined as a group of researchers who study all things pallets.  The palleteers had two papers accepted for publication in 2016 on the topic of “effective pallet management strategies” in TR-E and “Carbon footprint analysis of pallet remanufacturing” in JCP.  Andres has done a great job capturing our groups contributions, check out his page on Sustainable Pallet Management.   A highlight of the fall was hosting Fabiana Tornese in Troy.  She is finishing her Ph.D. in the Department of Innovation Engineering at University of Salento.  She spent last summer with Andres in Auburn; this year in upstate NY.  We were able to take a trip to visit Brian at RIT and watch how pallets are manufactured.  Honestly, who knew I would know so much about pallets!  I’m looking forward to continued pallet management projects with an eye towards the circular economy.

A perk of academics is getting to keep up with and working with members who have moved on to other adventures.  This included finishing up and submitting papers with former group members, Faraz Ramtin (now at Carian group in New Jersey); Mohamed Awwad (now at University of Missouri); and Patrick Reilly (now at Orange County Schools).  Kellie Schneider (University of Dayton) has been instrumental in extending Patrick’s work for journal publication, and she’s (of course) a lot of fun to work with.  Debjit Roy and I continued our research partnership; and he even visited us in Troy this summer.  A nice treat was receiving an IIE Transactions Honorable Mention Best Paper Award in 2016 for our joint work with Rene de Koster on “A Novel Approach for Designing Rental Vehicle Repositioning Strategies.”

I’m glad teaching is part of my job description.  I truly enjoyed my students in Operations Research Methods in the Spring and in Design and Analysis of Supply Chains in the Fall.  My parents attended one of my classes this spring (my Mom said it was good, except I talked too fast).

I was fortunate to be awarded a 2016 Gulf Research Program Early-Career Research Fellowship.  It’s a program of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.  RPI published a nice write-up about the award here.  I highly recommend applying to the early-career fellowships and science policy fellowships to others.  The orientation event in September was a highlight: meeting the other fellows, getting to geek out with Einstein and Darwin at the NAS building, and hearing about the diversity of career choices available with a Ph.D. in STEM . During fellowship orientation, I was struck by how an Industrial and Systems Engineering perspective is both valued in policy roles and embodies the Gulf Research Program’s mission of considering multiple perspectives, synthesizing results from multiple data sources and fields of study, and using research to guide decision making.   The program has and will continue to have calls for research proposals, so check it out!


My Last Slide from my research seminar at UofA.  Graduate school was a lot of fun, exposing me to knowledge both in and outside the classroom.  There are 10 Razorback students who became faculty members captured in these pictures, can you find them all?

Another highlight of 2016 was visiting my Alma Mater, the University of Arkansas, to give a research presentation in their seminar series.  Going to graduate school was one of the best professional and personal decisions I have made in my life.

On-demand peer-to-peer resource sharing systems is a continued theme of my research.  I kicked off 2016 with a presentation at a TRB workshop.  This Transport Topics article captures the conversation well:

At TRB, Jennifer Pazour, an industrial and systems engineering professor at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in Troy, New York, agreed that these types of on-demand logistics services can improve asset utilization and flexibility. “What this on-demand economy allows us to do is tap into those unused resources and use them very efficiently,” she said.

Traditional supply chain networks tend to be somewhat static, which can limit their efficiency and resiliency, Pazour said. In contrast, the on-demand model represents a more dynamic supply chain that potentially can incorporate infinite participants, transfer points and pickup and delivery locations, which makes it more adaptable and resilient. However, this “boundless supply chain” also is much more complex, Pazour said. Authenticating personnel and facilities, for example, can become more complicated under the on-demand model.

Read more at: http://www.ttnews.com/articles/basetemplate.aspx?storyid=41949&page=3  © Transport Topics

Fast Forward interviewed me to highlight a career in Logistics.  My interview, which provides an overview of my interest in on-demand logistics, geared towards high school students is available here.


Crowdsourcing and Collaborative Warehousing and Logistics, WERC Annual Meeting; Brett Parker (President and Co-Founder Cargomatic); Jen Pazour (RPI); Karl Siebrecht (CEO Flexe), and Brett Spector (Director of Noth America Channel Sales, Iron Mountain)

In May, I presented with the executives from FLEXE (Karl Siebrecht), Cargomatic (Brett Parker), and IronMountain (Brett Spector) at WERC’s annual meeting.  Karl provides a nice overview of our presentation in his blog post here.  This summer I submitted a grant proposal on the topic.  This fall I presented in RPI’s Lally School of Management, Center for Supply Networks and Analytics Seminar Series.  Next week I am headed to New Jersey to give a presentation about on-demand logistics at an APICS/WERC event.

It’s my 15th anniversary of discovering Industrial and Systems Engineering.  While our field has made some progress on informing the world about what we do, I believe we need to do more.  To get the word out, I led the development of an introduction to RPI ISE video, targeting high school students and undecided engineering students: https://youtu.be/f6Ps5SyimMg.

2016 has confirmed moving to Troy was the right move.  I love my job, but weekends are even better.  We’ve made a number of interesting and kind friends, Luke continues to work at the intersection of data analytics and video games, we eat too much pizza and I never drive my car.

In terms of 2017, I’ll rely on the great Bob Dylan for inspiration.

It’s hard to speculate what tomorrow may bring. I kinda live where I find myself.

Bob Dylan, 1984 Rolling Stones Interview


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