Contact: Ellen Sterner
SMU News & Media Relations
(214) 768-7650

April 3, 2002

SMU ENGINEERING MANAGEMENT STUDENTS TACKLE REAL-WORLD PROBLEMS FOR INDUSTRY

DALLAS (SMU) -- A major national company is having a crisis at a call center it operates in Dallas. Although employees there appear to be working non-stop, the company's computer-based time tracking system shows they are working at only a 39 percent productivity rate, compared to a desired rate of 70 percent. The company cannot understand why there is such a discrepancy.

To solve the mystery, the company has turned to seniors from the SMU School of Engineering who are studying management science, a discipline that involves using mathematical modeling to solve business problems. Each year for the past 21 years, seniors who are about to graduate have applied what they have learned to real-life problems facing local companies. Previous clients have ranged from American Airlines to the Dallas Zoo.

"The class gives students the opportunity to take what they've learned in previous classes and apply it to a real-world situation," said Tom Siems, a senior economist and policy advisor with the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas who teaches the class.

Siems said his students help companies make decisions that are based on real numbers rather than emotion or what "feels right."

"There are a lot of companies that want to support their decisions with quantitative analyses," Siems said. "Many have collected data but they haven't turned that into knowledge about factors such as their operations and their customers that would be useful in making decisions that lower costs and boost productivity."

Other companies turning to SMU this spring include a major restaurant company that wants help forecasting sales and demand for its bakery items, a homebuilder that is trying to determine the optimal worker mix for each project and a hospital that is trying to analyze the work flow of employees in its asthma center with an eye toward implementing process improvements that could increase profitability.

Several students also are working with SMU's Office of Planning and Plant Operations to predict the savings if the school installs sensors that shut off lights when no one is in the rooms.

"These students are able to provide additional input that we wouldn't have available otherwise," said Joanna Kolson, vice president for operations analysis at the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas. Students from the SMU class have worked on several projects for the bank in the past and are working on another project this semester to try and determine the best mix of resources necessary to complete employee requests for information from staff in its research library.

For the company that runs the call center, students are analyzing its tracking system and trying to determine whether employees are documenting their time correctly. They hope to use the data they gather to determine the true employee productivity rate.

Amy Stokes, who is working on the call center project, said this is her favorite class.

"I've had two internships, but this is the closest I've come to what I hope to be doing when I graduate," she said.

Richard Barr, chair of the Department of Engineering Management, Information and Systems, said many students who earn undergraduate degrees in management science go to work for consulting companies and work on projects that are very similar to the ones this class does.

"Some of them actually beat out MBAs for jobs," Barr said.

Note to editors: Students in this year's class will present the results of their work on Tuesday, May 7 from 11:30 a.m.-2:30 p.m.


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