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Region’s industrial engineering students converge on OHIO for disaster relief conference

Megan Reed | Feb 27, 2017
IISE GLRC17 Conference attendees

Region’s industrial engineering students converge on OHIO for disaster relief conference

Megan Reed | Feb 27, 2017

Hundreds of students from five states discovered how to apply engineering to disaster relief this weekend as part of the Ohio University-hosted Great Lakes Regional Conference of the Institute for Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE), held in Athens Fri-Sat., Feb. 24-25.

About 270 students from Ohio, Michigan, Indiana, Pennsylvania and Kentucky attended the conference, which was planned by students from OHIO’s Russ College of Engineering and Technology.

The conference, themed “Finding the IE in Relief,” featured speakers from UPS, Amazon, DHL, the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, the Russ College, and IISE about how industrial engineers can aid disaster relief efforts. Students also toured the Southeastern Ohio Food Bank in Logan, Ohio, competed in a paper competition, and attended an industry-specific career fair.

Senior Cami Jones, student conference coordinator, said the conference committee has worked for two years to organize the event and find speakers to discuss their experiences.

“I think that the theme of the conference really drew a great response from all of the professionals we were in contact with – many of the speakers found us,” she said. “Several of our speakers are alumni of the Russ College Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering who saw connections to the theme with the work their companies do and volunteered to speak about the connection.”

Master’s student Nick Loree, finance chair for the conference, said one of the goals of the conference was to inform students about how they could use their skills in a new field.

“We’re hoping that students learned more about how humanitarian aid looks from a logistics and systems perspective,” he said. “We want to get students engaged in thinking critically and using industrial engineering skills in a context that they may not have ever considered before.”

Associate Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering and conference faculty chair Tao Yuan said industrial engineering’s focus on logistics can be used to help both businesses and nonprofit organizations operate more efficiently.

“We look at how we can send food and how we can send important supplies to the area that is affected by the disaster,” he said. “With ISE, we try to improve efficiency and safety, as well as reduce cost, so certainly we can play a role in disaster relief.”

Brenna Roti, a sophomore at Western Michigan University who attended the conference, said she wanted to learn more about how her coursework could prepare her to work with nonprofits. She has volunteered with Feed My Starving Children and is interested in learning about the other side of how nonprofits operate.

“With my major now, if I can help people improve those operations and make them more efficient, that’s definitely a goal for me,” she said.

Russ College Dean Dennis Irwin, speaking at the conference’s closing dinner, challenged the students to “create for good” in their careers.

“The ‘create’ part just means ‘be an engineer.’ The ‘for good’ part means you’re an engineer that does engineering for right and lasting reasons,” he said. “When you practice engineering ‘for good,’ you will know it, and you will feel great about it.”

Engineers are tasked with the difficult mission of creating from scratch, but when they’re successful, they can have a lasting impact, Irwin said.

“‘Scientists discover the world that exists; engineers create the world that never was,’” Irwin said, quoting aerodynamicist Theodore von Karman. “I think this is the best description possible for what we, as engineers, do.”