What’s Your Story?

What’s Your Story?

ISE Magazine June 2020 Volume: 52 Number: 6

By Alice E. Smith


What first inspired you to pursue industrial engineering as a career?

 As a high school student, I wanted to be an art major but my father persuaded me that art was not going to lead to a good career. So I chose engineering which, to my surprise, turned out to be very artful. I entered ISE after getting degrees in civil engineering and business. (I blame this on my former universities, which did not offer ISE.) But once I discovered ISE, I knew it was a perfect match. I love math but science not so much. Therefore, I chose to focus more on analytics and computation in ISE.

You’ve helped conduct research studies in both the public and private sectors. What did you learn from each experience?

My sponsors have been diverse and reflect my status as a research omnivore, that is, I am interested in investigating almost anything. I most like to formulate and solve large-scale problems that have been simplified or overlooked in the past because previous approaches could not deal with their complexities. These have ranged from logistics (warehousing, facility design, container ports, last-mile delivery drones) to manufacturing process control and optimization (ceramics, powder metals, machining) to reliability (wired and wireless networks, component assemblies). I am especially happy that my publications have been cited by many thousands of other papers in a great variety of disciplines. This is proof to me that my work has been of value to many research and practitioner communities. In fact, one of my papers was recently cited in a psychology journal by an article addressing how people read Shakespeare!

What led you to compile a book on women in ISE?

I was invited by the series editor and, at first, I said “no” because I already had so many work commitments. But then I thought it would be an important undertaking and I was as well connected with women in ISE research as anyone, so I said yes.

The book opens with a profile of Lillian Gilbreth. How does she continue to inspire female engineers?

My mother actually met Lillian Gilbreth as an undergraduate math major at Purdue so I have only one degree of separation from our founding luminary! Lillian Gilbreth truly did it all – groundbreaking work in industrial engineering, being a single mother of a large family and serving throughout her adult life as an advocate for both ISE and for women. Who could be more inspiring?

How did you find the various authors who contributed to the book and what has been the reaction to it?

The chapters in the book were by invitation only. I started with a core of women whom I knew were leading innovative and impactful research groups in a variety of sub-disciplines of ISE. Some of those women, in turn, recommended others. It grew to be the longest book of the series by far, which shows the amount of research that ISE women are producing.

Both men and women have admired the importance and uniqueness of such a book – both as a record of research excellence and as an inspiration for those girls and women considering or beginning their ISE careers.

How can the book guide students toward an ISE career?

An important aspect of the book is the biography of each author which, along with the traditional academic biography, includes how each author entered STEM and decided to make their careers in ISE research. These along with the interesting topics of the chapters should spark interest by those considering a career in ISE research

Are you seeing greater interest from women pursuing ISE careers at Auburn?

We have a large proportion of women undergraduate students in Auburn ISE but still less than 50%. However, the percentages reduce at the graduate level, especially for the doctorate. This is true in most universities across the U.S. As we graduate more women and they progress in their careers, they become role models, which is very important for more women to enter and stay in the field of ISE

What is the key to steering more young women into STEM fields?

If I knew the answer to this, I would have shared it long ago. Engineering is the last profession to be strongly male dominated. I think we need to encourage all younger women and girls to consider STEM and not be intimidated. They do not have to be math wizards or science geeks to excel at engineering and enjoy it as a career. My own daughter chose her profession to help people as the primary goal. She found that in ISE where she is now in charge of logistics for a major hospital chain. This kind of fulfillment is key to today’s young women (and men).

How has your IISE involvement helped you reach your career goals?

I have embraced IISE for many years and strongly support it. Serving twice on the board (senior vice president for academics and publications) has been particularly rewarding. The best part has been interacting with the dedicated team of IISE member volunteers and IISE staff who work so hard to make our profession the best it can be.

References: IISE Magazine June 2020 (https://www.iise.org/iemagazine/2020-06/html/whats-your-story/whats-your-story.html)