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New IE name reflects broader focus

Kamisha Hamilton, Ben-Tzion Karsh and John Beasley

Assistant Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering Ben-Tzion Karsh (center), Family Medicine Clinical Professor John Beasley (right) and graduate student Kamisha Hamilton (left) are working to develop a feedback system for family medicine physicians and clinicians, and their patients. (large image)

For some, industrial engineering calls to mind factories and smokestacks, and time study, plant layout and work measurement, says Emerson Electric Professor in Total Quality Harry Steudel, who chairs the UW-Madison Department of Industrial Engineering.

To respond to this antiquated perception of its field, the department has changed its name to the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, abbreviated ISyE — although it will continue to offer the industrial engineering degree. "To be a leading department, it is important to have a name that also represents the breadth and innovation of our work," says Steudel.

Systems engineering deals with the complex interrelationships within a system comprised of people, equipment, materials, information and energy, and examines ways to better design, implement, improve and manage the performance of these integrated systems.

Although faculty in several areas of the department, including those in its newest information systems area and those in quality engineering, study systems engineering issues, perhaps the best example of systems engineering within the department is its health systems engineering area, says Steudel. "We are the leader in the country in research in health systems engineering," he says. "And the types of research and the types of work that our people are doing and also starting to teach in their courses is very much different from the traditional industrial environment that one thinks of from 40 or 50 years ago."

UW-Madison health systems faculty are studying new-technology implementations in organizations such as clinics, surgery centers or hospitals. They create models and scales to study health variables such as quality of life and satisfaction with care. They develop computer systems to educate people about illness and ways to avoid accidents and illnesses. They use computers to improve the delivery of health services. They study patient safety, and more.

The idea of systems engineering isn't new to the department, says Steudel, but rather a new way of describing the breadth of the industrial engineering field. "Industrial engineering has kind of grown up and taken on a greater importance in terms of the types of problems that we tackle," he says. "It has a more important role in society today to try to improve the quality of not only the product or service that people get, but also the quality of work life. And many of these things are very complex problems because they're complex systems. And so I think the new department name reflects this growth both in importance and in scope of industrial engineering."