Student Discover ‘Natural Charm,’ Potential Power of O.R.



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In very few disciplines are we given the opportunity to bridge the gap between the beautiful rigidity of mathematics and the viscous decision-making of business. One of those disciplines is operational research. In my experience, even many high school students don’t have much sense of this aforementioned offshoot of industrial engineering.

However, the unintended splendor of a situation such as this lies in the idea that somewhere along the way, every person currently involved in the O.R. field had to take a leap of faith – had to make the conscious decision to hop on the path toward sine future in this field. Lately, as a third-year university student studying industrial & systems engineering (ISE) and hoping to pursue a graduate degree in O.R., I’ve thought a great deal about my own “leap of faith.” In this piece, I hope to fully articulate exactly what I discovered about how people may trace their academic beginnings.

Choosing a Major

                Entering college, my interest in the relatively obscure aspects of certain majors was what enticed me to seek out the ISE major at the University of Florida. I didn’t know much about ISE, and I didn’t yet know many other people that wanted to become an ISE major. I wanted to set my own path and make my may in unfamiliar territory. In high school, I had been all over the STEM spectrum: I had tried my hand at programming some interesting games in TI-BASIC on my graphing calculator, I had fiercely applied myself in my calculus classes, and I had really enjoyed the way statistics lessons could make sense of the seemingly random world.

As fate would have it, my college freshman advisors described ISE to me as “a blend of computer, science, mathematics, statistics and business.” I enjoyed all those subjects and didn’t want to limit the breadth of my studies to any single one of them. And so I decided to give ISE a try. Declaring a major was just the beginning. Soon, I realized that my major was incredibly broad, so I set out to discover what one actually does with this degree. That inquiry led me to operations research. Through online research, reading, and talking with professors and peers, I discovered a field of study that was fascinating, exciting, and ever-growing in our society.

The Natural Charm of O.R.

                The initial – subconscious, in a way – attraction to operations research emanated from hearing about companies “increasing their efficiency tenfold and reducing their costs substantially” and so on, due to an ingenious process improvement. In short, the direct application to the real world of so many important O.R. concepts was the first charm for me. I found myself wanting to make a difference when I heard stories like that of Toyota, which “donated” engineers, in lieu of money, to a local homeless shelter. Those engineers developed a more efficient structure of waiting line queues at the shelter, decreasing wait times for food by half. Practitioners of O.R., I learned, also help determine the complicated regular season schedules of the NFL, NBA and MLB professional sports leagues.