Associate Professor, Mechanical and Industrial Engineering, University of Massachusetts at Amherst; MSIE ’04, PhDIE ’07 (BSIE ’03, University of Iowa),
Recipient of the 2016 College of Engineering Early Career Achievement Award, Nov. 11, 2016.
How did you choose to attend college at UW-Madison?
I was an undergrad in industrial engineering at Iowa and my husband was in industrial and systems engineering at UW. He worked as an undergraduate doing research with a faculty member in industrial and systems engineering named Bentzi Karsh, who has passed away. I got to see his research addressing how industrial engineering could be used to improve healthcare. It was really through his experience doing research as an undergrad that I found out about healthcare research as a possibility for grad school. When I was looking at grad schools, I talked with several faculty members at UW, and ended up working with Patti Brennan.
Who was your favorite engineering professor?
In grad school, your advisor plays a really important role in your life, so Patti Brennan had a significant impact as a mentor—and continues to today. I took two other great courses from Stephen Robinson and David Zimmerman, and they were involved in my dissertation committee, so became strong mentors and encouragers. Pascale Carayon has also become a wonderful mentor as I have progressed in my career.
When you were a student, what was your favorite place to eat (or hang out) on campus?
My family and I are big ice cream people, so Babcock was definitely the favorite place to eat. I also rowed with Mendota rowing club, so I was able to spend a lot of early mornings out on the lake.
What lesson did you learn as a student that has benefited you most in your career?
I think the biggest thing for me, and it really relates mostly back to the faculty members I interacted with, was that sometimes other people can envision a future for you that you might not be able to. They were supporters of me going into an academic career, even though that was not something that had ever crossed my mind. They opened my eyes to potential future opportunities and then helped me figure out how to get there. There is no way I would’ve ended up in my career situation without the support and mentorship they gave me.
What professional accomplishment are you most proud?
Graduating my first PhD student was significant because I was working through a similar process as someone worked through with me. It was so rewarding having a student arrive who was not quite sure what to do, assessing what they needed to work through, and seeing them through the tough grad school experience.
Who played the greatest role in your achievements?
There are several people, who together have helped me get where I am. I had my parents, who were very encouraging of me going into engineering, and going to grad school. When I took the job in Massachusetts, my husband and I moved away from the Midwest. Both my parents and my husband’s parents were supportive of us doing that. My husband has also been incredible. He worked at Epic while I was in grad school, and really was supportive of me finding an academic job situation, even though that meant leaving his job. He really kind of took a leap of faith to move somewhere where we didn’t have family, didn’t have friends, and he didn’t know what his job was going to be.
When I was an undergraduate at the University of Iowa, I worked with John Lee doing research, and he’s now at UW. He was the person who originally suggested going to grad school. When I was in grad school, the faculty members I mentioned before were so important. At UMass, I was lucky to come into a department that was incredibly supportive of young faculty members. The former department head here has been an incredible mentor, and I have been surrounded by nice people who have had my best interests in mind.
What advice would you give students in your discipline today?
I wish I had realized that your time in college – whether as an undergraduate or graduate student – is so unique. You get this extended time period to learn. One of the things when I look back is that I wish not gotten as caught up in the end goal of graduating. Especially in my time as an undergraduate, I wish I had taken more time to step back and actually think about what I was learning, and why those things were important to learn.
I think one of the most important things to do during your undergraduate experience is to connect with at least one faculty member, because that was so important to me. They have a much broader perspective of things you could do in terms of jobs, grad school, or other options that you might not consider. And, they become an advocate for you as you go forward. John Lee, who I worked with as an undergraduate, is still a mentor and encourager. I also don’t think students realize how much the faculty members like it. I have students that I have kept in touch with for years, and I love to know what they are doing.
What are your hobbies/interests?
My husband (Brett) and I are both runners and try to do at least one half marathon a year. Our family also loves cross-country skiing. We head back every winter to northern Wisconsin where Brett has done the Birkebeiner ski marathon for 14 years. Part of my sabbatical was spent at the University of Minnesota, so I was able to do the race that year, and I’ve done the half marathon several times.
Having fun with our two kids is also a big hobby. Our oldest son (Edison) turns 4 this weekend (11/11). Our younger son (Graham) was born six months ago. Keeping them entertained is a major hobby.
Is there anything else you’d like to tell us about yourself?
My group researches ways that we can help provide information to doctors, nurses, and patients so they can make better decisions about improving health and healthcare. That’s anything from getting mobile device data from patients into the clinical record so that doctors and nurses can use it, or changing the way information in the clinical record is formatted so individuals can find and understand it more easily. We are basically trying to figure out how to help doctors, nurses, and patients make better decisions by thinking about what data or information they should be able to see, when they should see it, and how it should be displayed.
Author: Engineering External Relations