Student Chapter Spotlight: Northeastern University

The INFORMS Student Chapter at Northeastern University was established in 2015 with fewer than 50 members. Since then, our members have grown in number to 231 and have organized more than 20 events throughout 2017 and early 2018. Our student chapter aims to bring our members in closer contact with current OR and analytics issues and techniques in both academic and non-academic environments.

In Fall 2017, we organized a series of machine learning tutorials using Python taught by one of our own PhD candidates. It began with an introduction to Python and then continued bi-weekly to cover Naïve Bayes, Support Machine Vector, Decision Trees, Random Forest and Evaluation Metrics. We ended the semester with a talk by Dr. Rina Schneur, the 17th INFORMS president and former Director of Business Analytics at Verizon.

With the new board of officers elected in late 2017, the direction of our student chapter has extended to embrace more collaboration with internal and external organizations as we look to organize high- quality and proactive events. We plan to take advantage of the opportunity of being in the heart of Boston where many companies and organization headquarters are located. We have also continued to organize tutorial and seminar sessions to accommodate the needs of our members. In Spring 2018, we held two tutorials and three seminar sessions. We were delighted to have Northeastern’s Data Analytics and Visualization Specialist give a tutorial on “Data Visualization with Tableau” and to have a professor from our College of Engineering provide a tutorial session on Deep Learning. For the seminar session, we invited an alumnus who is currently working in the Massachusetts Health Policy Commission to talk about designing healthcare policy and using analytics from the perspective of a practitioner. We were also proud to have Wayfair and Teradata representatives deliver seminars in which they discussed new methods and techniques in the analytics world.

To encourage members to use the data visualization techniques they learned in the tutorial sessions, we organized a “Data Visualization Hackathon.” We used public data sets for Boston and allotted 6 hours for the participants to analyze the data and produce several visualizations to address the problem of study. The participants then printed their visualizations into the provided template and presented them to the judges. Winners of the hackathon received Amazon gift cards and university mugs. The program gathered 28 teams with a total of 72 participants and received great feedback to continue this event in future.

We also introduced a new series of events called “Optimize your Connection” in collaboration with the Department of Mechanical and Industrial Engineering. We reserved 45 minutes to one hour for selected PhD students to meet with invited speakers so they could discuss and ask questions about the speakers’ research, academic experience, and more. In the Spring 2018 series, we were honored to have Dr. Gun Udomsawat from the United States Postal Service, Dr. Jean-Francois Cordeau from University of Montreal, Dr. Karen Zheng from MIT, and Dr. Barry Nelson from Northwestern University sit down with our students.

Another new program launched this year is ProBono Analytics. We gathered a number of interested members to work on several pro bono projects. We initiated the program by meeting with non-profit organizations in a “speed-dating” environment organized by the Center of Community Service at Northeastern. We met and presented the objective of the program and received great responses from the organizations. With an intended 3-4 months project timeline, we launched 3 projects in early March with 5-6 members for each project. The program was first introduced by the larger INFORMS organization and was applied by our chapter to help our members use their problem solving and analytical skills with real-world data sets. This summer, we are looking to partner with other student chapters to create a standardized workflow for an independent ProBono Analytics program to better streamline the process so that the valuable program can help not only the non-profits but our members as well.

Our members receive a weekly newsletter in the spring and fall semesters that provides day-of event reminders as well as advertisements for upcoming events. Our newsletter also contains a section on “Success Stories” where we announce newly published papers, awards, and other accomplishments of our members.

In the coming fall semester, we plan to organize more social events, such as Trivia Night and a game show called “JeORpardy.” We are looking to continue our efforts in collaborative events with undergraduate organizations such as Northeastern University’s Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE) to promote optimization work, as well as to encourage more undergraduates to continue working in operations research and analytics. We would like to expand this collaborative effort to other student chapters, as well as learn about the events other student chapters have organized, so that we can share program content and further promote INFORMS. To subscribe to our newsletter, please email informsnu@gmail.com, and to learn more about us, follow us on Facebook and Twitter at INFORMS at Northeastern University or visit our website at https://web.northeastern.edu/informs/.