Student Chapter Spotlight: University at Buffalo

The UB-INFORMS Student Chapter has grown many folds over the years. Last year, the chapter broke its own record in terms of number of events and focused on establishing a strong organizational foundation. In recognition of high achievement and accelerated progress, the chapter was awarded the Summa Cum Laude award at the INFORMS 2018 Annual Meeting in Phoenix. This year, the chapter has focused on building and improving on that foundation. The chapter has covered a broad range of workshops, seminars, social and outreach events. In an effort to increase community engagement, the chapter has strengthened current relationships and built new partnerships with local organizations. To give back to the community, in addition to our pro-bono work, the chapter is currently working on running a food drive. This year has seen consistency in fundraising that has increased our spending potential with a possibility to host a variety of events.

Workshops, Seminars, and Social Events

Continuing to equip students at UB with skills that they can learn outside the classroom, this year, the chapter has hosted workshops as a knowledge sharing platform on topics selected by students. These workshops have been conducted by students who have gained expertise in these areas. A “Data Manipulation using R” workshop introduced R and its capabilities of manipulating, visualizing and analyzing data. The University at Buffalo Center for Computational Research (CCR) allows UB students exceptional computational resources by making super-computers accessible for research. A four-part workshop was conducted to teach students how to use this computing resource effectively. LaTeX, a critical skill, sought by many and taught by a few was one of our more popular workshops this year. The chapter hosted a two-part workshop that was open to all and received high engagement from other engineering departments.

In partnership with the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, the chapter hosted Dr. Siqian Shen from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, and Dr. Joyendu “Joy” Bhadury from the College at Brockport, State University of New York to present talks on their research and have dedicated meet-and-greet time with the student body. Students were also provided a platform as a part of the Distinguished Student Speaker Series to present their work and encourage research discussions. The chapter is only as good as its student body. Team-building and student networking is fostered by social events where faculty and students come together for social events, such as trivia night and darts night.

Promoting Industrial and Systems Engineering

Last year, the chapter launched their first annual periodical, so-called “UB-INFORMED”. This year, the chapter has extended assistance to this effort by appointing a dedicated team to lead this effort. In addition, a design competition encouraged all students to use their creative talent and develop T-shirt designs that promote Industrial and Systems Engineering.

Outreach

The UB-INFORMS team has completed a series of Pro-Bono projects. Most recently, and most notably, is the work with Western New York’s Meals on Wheels (MOW). MOW is an organization that prepares and delivers meals to local seniors and disabled people and provides them with companionship. During the 2017-2018 academic year, a team of UB students partnered with MOW to create a software application that calculated the utilization of their cold storage areas. This project was completed in early October and presented to the Chief Operating Officer, Kathleen Graim and her team. The tool was well-received and they decided to move forward with a partnership. In November, the next project was outlined. An inventory management and forecasting tool is to be developed in the Spring semester.

There is no greater feeling in business than building a product which impacts people’s lives in a profound way. On behalf of Meals on Wheels for Western New York, we appreciate our partnership [with UB] and philanthropic initiatives that will increase our efficiencies and improve our service to the homebound seniors in our community.” – Kathleen Graim, COO, Meals On Wheels WNY

In addition to the MOW project, another pro-bono project team has joined forces of the UB Police. UB added a third campus in downtown Buffalo which has created a scheduling challenge for the police. This Fall, the team is creating a schedule that provides coverage to all three campuses while maintaining a work-life balance for officers.

For the students, by the students: Career Fair

This year, the chapter set a goal to expand our relationships with local businesses, and to leverage these relationships for our members. In pursuit of this goal, the chapter is currently in the process of planning a career fair, where our student body can interact with representatives from several companies in Buffalo. This career fair is additional to the career fair hosted by the school of engineering and is focused on supporting graduate students in engineering and strengthening local partnerships. As excitement about this idea grew, it was realized that such an ambitious goal might be more easily achieved through collaboration with other groups on campus. This was the catalyst for our ongoing relationship with the Graduate Indian Student Association (GISA). The UB-INFORMS chapter, specifically, is in talks with companies, such as Ford, GM, and M&T Bank, among others. Tentatively planned for February 21st, 2019, we anticipate the career fair being an impactful event for a large number of graduate students at UB.

Establishing Continuity

The UB-INFORMS leadership has recognized that continuity is critical to having a successful chapter. One simple, yet impactful change, was the revision of our election process. Traditionally, e-board members and coordinators were elected during the first week of the Fall semester each year and served terms through the end of the following summer. Unfortunately, this often led to a long “start-up” time at the beginning of each academic year, as newly elected e-board members took several weeks to learn the ins and outs of their positions.

In a special meeting last April, the chapter leadership accomplished two goals. First, they formulated detailed and specific definitions for each e-board position’s responsibilities, so that the constitution could act as a clear and thorough reference point in times of confusion. Second, the election process was split into two parts. Coordinator positions are still elected at the start of Fall semesters. E-board positions, however, are elected in May, three months before their term begins. This has several effects. First, it implies that e-board positions can only be held by individuals who were in the department and active in INFORMS during the preceding year. This ensures that the e-board positions are staffed by informed and engaged members of our department. Additionally, this process allows for incoming e-board members to shadow and learn from the current e-board members for several months. In this way, they are ready to hit the ground running when the new academic year arrives. Although this strategy was only implemented this year, we have already begun to see its positive effects.

With these established organizational processes and the prospective career fair, the chapter is looking forward to another successful year.