Students don’t regularly flock to probability and statistics, but Eileen Lee says she found the subject instantly appealing. Though initially convinced she would pursue chemical engineering, she watched her friends take courses in that major and knew the topics were not as interesting as she had hoped.
“I think that is when I realized it would be better for me to be an ORFE
major,” she says. “That way I could develop the business and analytical problem-solving skill set I would be using in the future, rather than spending time in a lab with pipettes.”
Operations Research and Financial Engineering covers five core disciplines: financial mathematics, operations research, optimization, probability theory and statistics. Lee says she has purposefully explored what she sees as two distinct tracks in the major – the operations research side and the financial engineering side – and has landed firmly in the camp of the former.
“I’m not actually interested in the finance side, like modeling the stock market or pricing derivatives,” she says. “I am into optimization and efficiency, trying to figure out the best ways that different systems can work together. It’s basically learning how to solve problems.”
In a transportation systems course taught by Alain Kornhauser
, for example, the class project was to create a taxi system around New Jersey serviced by autonomous vehicles. The goal was to decrease congestion. The class modeled the distribution of 8 million people living in New Jersey, the trips they took and for what purpose. The students used this data to evaluate ride-sharing potential among trips.
Lee also is pursuing a certificate in engineering biology
so that she can stay in touch with her side that enjoys the life sciences – the subjects she might have studied if she had pursued chemical engineering. She has taken courses in ecology and evolutionary biology, health care economics, as well as seminars in global health and infectious diseases.
She hopes that by supplementing her analytical ORFE skills with the courses that focus on health care issues, she will be well positioned to participate in the nation’s current debate on health care reform. At a summer internship with a health care consulting firm, Lee became aware of the value of making health information databases more accessible. In one case, a pharmaceutical firm was interested in mining its patient databases for information on improving its products. It was the kind of problem she was addressing in her classes.
Outside of the classroom, Lee is co-chair of the Undergraduate Student Government’s Projects Board, which is responsible for selecting the student events that receive USG funding. She also is a peer tutor in the residential college system, where she provides valuable assistance to students who are taking statistics. “What I try to do is identify the issues I had when I was in the class and let my advisees know before they face them themselves,” she says. In her free time, she enjoys playing soccer and going on runs along a nearby towpath.
Lee says her life plan is beginning to take shape. “I hope to work in the health care industry for a few years,” she says. “Then I plan to get my MBA, work a little longer, and eventually start my own business. I’ve planned this out.”