Friday, April 22, 2016

Great Undergraduate Research Conference at UMass Amherst Plus Humanitarian Logistics Thesis Defense

Today I had the pleasure of attending the Undergraduate Research Conference at UMass Amherst held at the Campus Center Auditorium.

This was a system-wide conference and just look at the schools that were represented below.
 I was excited to even get a name tag.
The reason I was there (and this is certainly a very busy time of the year since it is nearing the end of the academic year plus later today we have our UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter party to which I a bringing Ukrainian food), was that one of my undergraduate students in Operations and Information Management, Emilio Alvarez Flores, was defending his honors thesis at this special event.  Professor Ceren Soylu of the Department of Economics and I are co-chairing Emilio's  thesis committee. he title of Emilio's thesis: "Optimizing Non-Governmental Organizations’ Operations and Fundraising: A Game-Theoretical Supply Chain Approach."

Emilio had his presentation as an electronic poster.
Emilio is also a student in my Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare class this semester and his thesis passed with flying colors and it a great contribution to humanitarian logistics.  His interests lie in operations research, economics, and game theory, and his thesis was an excellent example of all three areas.

He begins his dissertation with the following quote by Martin Luther King Jr.:
“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is,
’What are you doing for others?’”

The thesis not only develops both Nash Equilibrium and Generalized Nash Equilibrium models for nongovernmental organizations (NGOs)  who seek to deliver relief supplies post-disaster to points of demand, while also competing for financial funds, and presents several numerical examples, but, also, contains a realistic case study focusing on Hurricane Katrina. The case study uses the Red Cross, the Salvation Army, as well as other NGOS as the involved disaster relief organizations. In fact, Emilio, Professor Soylu, and I submitted a paper based on the thesis to a research journal because both the model and formulation as well as examples are quite novel. The framework guarantees that there will not be oversupply (resulting in materiel convergence) or undersupply (resulting in suffering and loss of life) of relief items at various demand points, through the imposition of upper and lower bounds on the demands by a higher body or regulatory organization.

As Emilio states in his dissertation:  This research has a host of implications for both coordinating authorities, that is governments and organizing bodies like the United Nations, and managers in the public sector. As far as coordinated authorities are concerned, this research provides a strong argument for their importance in having successful humanitarian relief efforts. In fact, our research suggests that if authorities can impose the constraints on upper and lower demand levels, they can provide an effective mechanism for improving responses to disasters. In particular, it is imperative that we stress the importance having reliable statistics on the population that can be used to create the estimates on the upper and lower bounds on the demand. If NGOs do not believe that this estimates are reliable, it is highly unlikely that a coordinating authority will be capable of imposing the associated constraints in practice. In addition, governments and other authorities should include collaboration with and between NGOs as part of their preparation before a disaster. It is easy to imagine that attempts to perform large-scale coordination efforts during the response phase are likely to go awry or to be ineffective. Coordinating authorities that are successful in doing so should be capable of improving the outcomes of their relief efforts under the assumption that NGOs have the goodwill to be part of this mechanism.

Emilio is graduating from UMass Amherst on May 6 and will be starting his position at Cisco shortly thereafter. The passion and dedication that he has exhibited throughout his research project have been extraordinary. It was truly an honor to co-chair his dissertation and a great experience to also work with Professor Soylu of the Economics Department at UMass Amherst.

It was nice to see some of Emilio's friends come out to support him today.

I enjoyed speaking with several researchers from various colleges and was very impressed by the enthusiasm of the undergraduate researchers for their projects, whether researching Icelandic sagas,  whether journalists should not identify their sources, or the pros and cons of single gender precollege schools, or the effects of  preschool education on high school graduation rates around the world.
Attendance was great at this special event.
Also, I might add, that last week, on April 15, when I was at the University of Waterloo in Canada giving a plenary talk at Analytics Day, Emilio Alvarez Flores was one of ten recipients of an Honors Dean's Award from the Commonwealth Honors College at UMass Amherst. Writing a letter of nomination for him was a joy.

Congratulations to all undergraduate researchers who presented today at the Undergraduate Research Conference at UMass Amherst. I hope that you never lose that intellectual curiosity!