2017 Recap

Welcome to our 2017 Recap!  These Year-in-Review posts, an annual tradition, catalog our team’s progress while encouraging reflection and preparation for the voyage into the new year.

Quote: Rainer Maria Rilke #riflepaperco

Quote by Rainer Maria Rilke, Artwork by Rifle Paper Co. 

2017 culminated in two success stories. Dr. Uzma Mushtaque defended her PhD Dissertation entitled Context Dependent Discrete Choice Models and Assortment Optimization for Online Retail. Joan Climes defended her MS Thesis on Analytical Models for Retrieving Items in Dense Storage Systems and Optimizing the Location of an Open Square.

Uzma developed descriptive mathematical models to capture context-effects associated with individual user selection behavior.  Her models are novel as they capture the influence of assortment properties (specifically the assortment size), in addition to user and item attributes (as are commonly captured in existing research).   Using her new class of random utility models as inputs to optimization problems, she proves insights and creates new algorithms to determine “what to recommend” and “how many to recommend” in online settings.  She validated her approaches using data from online movie recommender systems and online retail. More details are available in this paper under review.  This research, partially supported by the National Science Foundation, earned Uzma an honorable mention at the 2017 IISE Doctoral Colloquium and a trip to Amazon’s Graduate Research Symposium. Uzma is currently serving as a Post-Doctoral Researcher in my lab and an instructor for the Core-Engineering course Modeling and Analysis of Uncertainty.

Joan’s research focused on dense storage systems, which allow for highly effective use of space, at the expense of requiring the repositioning of stored items to retrieve other more densely desired items. These dense storage systems are found in warehouses and distribution centers, and aboard US Navy ships used for sea-based logistics (this work was partially supported by the Office of Naval Research).  Her research creates mathematical models to determine the value of an empty space in a specific dense storage environment, the double-inverted T configuration (discovered by the always innovative Kevin Gue). Retrieval and repositioning distance equations are derived for each item in a layout.  An optimization problem is presented to select which location should be left open. Best locations for an open square are along the aisle and close to the vertical walls if h > k, or close to the horizontal wall if h = k. Due to the symmetry in repositioning distances, multiple optimal solutions exist.  Joan has accepted a position with Deloitte starting in February. In the meantime, we hope to work together to submit this work for peer-review.  Joan conducted this independent research as an undergraduate student, leading the modeling and coding development, all while taking challenging PhD-level optimization and statistics classes. She happens to be a runner on the RPI track team too. She has a standing offer to rejoin our team and pursue a Ph.D., as do a number of talented undergraduate researchers I’ve been honored to work with in the past.

Due to Uzma and Joan’s graduations, my research group has openings. I am looking for curious, talented people to join my research team.  If this year doesn’t work, keep us in mind in the future.

Kaan Unnu made great research progress in 2017 for his dissertation “Optimization Models for On-Demand Supply Chain Collaboration.”  On-demand systems provide resource elasticity: enabling finer granularity capacity and commitment decisions, and access to scale.  Kaan has chosen on-demand warehousing as a focus. Novel mixed integer linear programming models and efficient solution algorithms decide location-allocation in a dynamic network, capturing build, lease, and on-demand distribution simultaneously.  Computational experiments, utilizing the mathematical models, identify significant factors impacting performance and codify policy recommendations.  We’ve also partnered with IBM Research to start exploring the potential for blockchain technology to improve trust and facilitate physical movement/storage of goods’ data into a distributed ledger system.

Shahab Mofidi defended his PhD candidacy this summer, which focuses on “agile resource allocation decisions in modern supply chains with on-demand suppliers”.  Most recently, he has been developing new models and algorithms for online platforms.  To understand the trade-offs of providing choices to drivers through simultaneous personalized recommendations, we propose a hierarchical decision-making framework where the platform decides a recommendation set for each driver. Drivers then have discretion to choose the riders that best fit with their preferences or planned travel from this set. We model this framework as a bilevel optimization problem with a profit maximizing objective for the platform in the upper level (leader) problem and a utilitarian social welfare objective for the lower level (follower) problem. This results in a computationally expensive mixed integer linear bilevel problem. Since the platform needs to make instant recommendation for a relatively large problem size, we transform the formulation into a single level problem through proposing logical expressions. This research provided preliminary results for a NSF research proposal I submitted this summer. Shahab is a crucial resource.  He’s an excellent collaborator, and he continues to win national awards and scholarships.


I was humbled to be awarded the 2017 IISE Dr. Hamed K. Eldin Outstanding Early Career IE In Academia Award.  This award is especially exciting to me because so many of the past recipients are human beings whose careers I admire and hope to emulate.


I was awarded the 2017 SDSM&T Outstanding Recent Graduate.  As a blast from the past, I dug out my undergraduate graduation speech, which included the lines below…with a few inside jokes.

You might be a Tech grad if…

You can name the flavor of the day at Armadillos for the whole next week.

When asked to take a picture, you count off 1, 3, 5

You’ve ever applied probability and statistics in Deadwood or fluid dynamics to a night on the town.

Your student ID is only important one day of the week and that’s Wednesday.

You actually know your professors and they know you.

In 2017, I enjoyed giving back to my graduate school Alma mater – the University of Arkansas – by serving on their IE Liaison Board.  The IE department is conducting innovative research, while keeping students the focus.

We wrapped up our work on Sea-Based Delivery systems, funded through the Young Investigator program by the Office of Naval Research.  2017 saw two papers accepted for publication out of this research, with a couple more in the pipeline.  I joined the editorial board of IISE Transactions.  Having handled my first paper as an associate editor of the Emerging Applications and Analytics Department, I was reminded of the flip-side of the peer-review process.

2017 provided plenty of evidence the future is bright.  This included undergraduate ISE majors from across the Northeast giving up their weekend to attend the 2017 IISE Regional Conference, hosted at RPI.  Zach Shearin did a great job presenting his research on Analytics for the NHL Point System, earning him 2nd place in the undergraduate technical paper competition.  The winning Rutgers team did a fantastic job, and earned 2nd place at the National Competition. I was inspired by research conducted by undergraduates across the globe as I served on INFORMS Undergraduate Operations Research Prize committee.  I am the chair for the prize committee in 2018, and look forward to receiving inspiring applications.   Serving as RPI’s IME Class of 2020 adviser, our students’ focus, self-awareness, and vision, which are much beyond what I was thinking about as a freshman/sophomore in college, are encouraging.

Teaching brings me great joy.  I enjoyed polishing my course materials for two courses in 2017: Design and Analysis of Supply Chains and Operations Research Methods.  I am a big fan of clicker questions to keep students engaged and participating in the materials.  I’ve found these can work for quantitative materials too.  Please click in:

D3 Inventory Management Uncertain Demand.jpg

I spent a lot of time in the Fall preparing to give a RED (Research, Education, and Discovery) Talks – A Transformative Rensselaer Confronts the Global Challenges.  My presentation with Professor Jim Hendler was about “The Data Challenge.”  I presented my vision of the future of supply chains and how researchers across RPI are addressing the need for tomorrow’s supply chains to be resilient and agile.

Our research was featured in a 2017 Supply Chain Dive article “How retail supply chains are adapting to the Amazon effect.”  In particular, we were quoted, “A wide variety of our [order] requests are made with very little warning and are expected to be fulfilled quickly, in small units, to a number of different locations,” Jennifer Pazour, Assistant Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering for Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute said at a WERC conference panel. This is the Amazon effect. This is the idea that I want my stuff now and fast, and oh by the way I don’t want to pay much for it.”  This is fundamentally different than yesterday’s demand, which aggregated at fixed (store) locations.  Thus, today’s supply chains are optimized for yesterday’s customers. To close the gap between current supply chain operations and customer expectations, our team rethinks supply chain design.   Our research was well-received by industry groups, having presented in 2017 at three separate APICS events, at WERC’s annual meeting and through WERC’s webinar series.  Such interactions have led to connections and research projects with supply chain and logistics companies and start-ups.  I’ve also continued involvement with a number of programs to encourage youth to pursue a career in engineering and logistics.  A highlight was the presentation given by undergraduates Brook Rulewich and Fiona Flynn, created as part of RPI’s Engineering Ambassador’s program.  Their presentation, geared toward innovative ways to deal with traffic, motivates middle and high school students to think about careers in Industrial and Systems Engineering, and Civil Engineering.

Collaborations created through the Gulf Research Program Fellowship program have led to new friends, new problems, and new data.  I am specifically excited about my collaboration with Diego Figueroa, from the School of Earth Environmental and Marine Sciences, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, to explore Optimal Marine Protected Area Design for Mesophotic Reef Conservation in the Gulf of Mexico.

To avoid the trap of social media only showing a curated life of success, I should discuss some disappointments in 2017 as well. I received the gut-wrenching email that my proposal has been rejected 4 times, along with several similar emails for paper submissions.  As I mentioned in a presentation to the IISE Doctoral Colloquium, a research career is not a monotonically increasing function: feedback and criticism lead to better end products and growth.

Pazour Doctoral Colloquium

But 2017 wasn’t all research and papers! In 2017, I marched for science, equality, and facts.  We become first-time homeowners, saw 90% of the solar eclipse, visited the Math Museum, celebrated the successful return of Crash Bandicoot (and his sister Coco), enjoyed the consistency of meeting up with friends at Troy’s Farmer Market and Wine Wednesdays, enjoyed get-aways to MASS MoCA, hosted family in Troy, read a few great books…and a few ok books.


Cheers to 2018!



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