Areas of Focus
Increasing awareness of industrial engineering and operations research among high school students is a top priority for both A. Russell Chandler III Chair and Professor Pascal Van Hentenryck and Merrill Bonder, president of the Seth Bonder Foundation. Together they created the Seth Bonder Camp in Computational and Data Science for Engineering to help students better understand the careers and opportunities available in these fields.
“When most people think about engineering, they think of mechanical or civil, but they don’t know — until they are already in college — that they can use industrial engineering and operations research tools to analyze and solve scientific, real-world problems,” explained Bonder. “We want to introduce high school students to the field and its many applications early, so they know it is a future career option.”
Big data and data science are growing fields; and while people may have heard these terms, they typically don’t fully understand their many applications.
“Data science is the idea of using computation to transform data into information, knowledge, insights, and decisions,” explained Van Hentenryck. “Data scientists are changing the world every day, and we want to help develop the next generation.”
This summer, 30 high school students gathered at the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering on July 22 to participate in the Seth Bonder Camp in Computational and Data Science for Engineering. The five-day camp, led by Van Hentenryck, teaches basic programming and computer science skills to participants with little or no prior experience in these areas.
Each day began with an interactive lecture from Van Hentenryck, followed by an afternoon in the lab getting hands-on experience to implement the concepts learned. The camp uses Snap!, a visual programming language designed to teach basic programming concepts without the mathematical component. The lessons built on these ideas to show how data science is changing social science, machine learning, medicine, biology, and engineering. The campers even learned how to create a program to solve Sudoku in seconds.
“Pascal does a wonderful job taking a difficult concept and breaking it down so the students can understand it,” said Bonder. “He makes it fun and lighthearted, which makes it more appealing to the students who may be considering industrial engineering or operations research as a career choice.”
Van Hentenryck thoroughly enjoyed his time working on the camp. “It is an opportunity to go back in time and rediscover the awe I felt when I realized how to use computing for solving complex engineering problems,” he reflected. “I try to give them the confidence to dive into the field and build solutions.”
At the conclusion of the camp, several students told Van Hentenryck that they wanted to become engineers and asked to keep in touch. A few even asked him to serve as a mentor for high school research projects in the coming year.
To further their mission of increased awareness of data science and operations research among as many high school students as possible, Van Hentenryck and Bonder hope to eventually create a free online version of the course that will be open to anyone interested in learning more about this growing field.
Seth Bonder (1932-2011) was the founder and CEO of Vector Research, an operations research consulting firm. He served as faculty, and then adjunct faculty, in the industrial engineering department at the University of Michigan and as the 27th president of the Operations Research Society of America. Bonder won numerous awards throughout his career and was an elected member of the National Academy of Engineering. He earned a B.S. in mechanical engineering from the University of Maryland and a Ph.D. in industrial engineering from Ohio State University.