How Senior Design Teams Succeed in the Middle of a Pandemic

Apr 24, 2020 | Atlanta, GA

Completing a Senior Design project is a rite of passage for all engineering undergraduates at Georgia Tech; it’s a required course for graduation. For students in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE), this means spending a semester on what amounts to a part-time job. Teams of six to eight students tackle a real-world problem faced by companies that often are household names – UPS, The Home Depot, Delta Air Lines, Waffle House, Chick-fil-A, and The Coca-Cola Company.

During a typical semester, the teams spend 12 to 15 hours a week making multiple visits to their clients’ headquarters, defining the problem they will address with their industrial engineering skills, gathering data in order to devise a solution, and modeling and testing their solution. Clients frequently implement some or all of their team’s solution, saving considerable time and money as a result.

But in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, with shelter-in-place orders implemented by state and local governments, and businesses and academia moving online, this is hardly a typical semester. So, how have this semester’s 30 ISyE Senior Design teams successfully adapted?

As it turns out, communication and flexibility – two qualities necessary for a successful Senior Design team during a normal semester – are even more crucial in the current situation.

 For Brice Edelman, whose team client is Kinaxis, a Canadian supply chain management software company, the adjustments made by his group have been close to home – literally.

“I live 40 minutes north of Atlanta, so my ‘isolation’ meant a short drive home to be with my family,” he says. “But I have groupmates whose closest family members are thousands of miles away – in India, in Brazil, or scattered across the U.S. – who have had to figure out what to do, where to go, and otherwise handle things that were easy for me. They are in stressful, scary situations, but even so, they've continued to exceed the standard and create excellent results.

“Earlier in the semester, we found that structure was important for our project – now, it’s absolutely critical,” Edelman continues. “Scheduling and adhering to regular check-ins, double-clarifying expectations, and setting deadlines for work are prerequisites to success in this new work environment. Our group is full of hard workers, but this structure and extra communication ensures that we're all doing the right work.”

Katie Neil’s team, which worked with Buffalo Wild Wings, had a similar experience.

“At the beginning of the semester, our team discussed what we wanted to achieve in Senior Design,” Neil explains. “Once we were all safely settled at home, we had an open and honest discussion about the ensuing changes. While it was a tough conversation, I think being candid about the situation and discussing its repercussions was important. Additionally, I think we've become quite creative when it comes to being productive and motivated - whether that's FaceTime calls to silently do work to stay accountable, BlueJeans meetings with our advisor so we all remain on the same page, and even Discord meetings to chat and remind ourselves that social distancing doesn't mean emotional isolation!” 

The team recognized the extremely unusual nature of the current situation, and in response, they built additional flexibility into the product they created for the restaurant chain.

“We have focused on what ‘sustainability’ means in a corporate setting, in other words the longevity of a product or model,” Neil says. “At the end of this project, our product needs to be useable years into the future. Our final deliverable is a demand forecasting and product mix optimization tool, which means the models are trained on historical data. Obviously, there’s a question as to the validity of historical data for the first few months – if not longer – of 2020 and how it could skew forecasts. In response, we built our product to be flexible when it comes to selecting which data to train our models on. That way, if the client chooses to forgo selecting certain time periods of data, they can do so.”

Another Senior Design team was able pivot in a few short days to address their client’s needs that arose specifically because of the COVID-19 pandemic. They worked with Goodr, a food waste management startup that recovers leftover food from food businesses and delivers it to either non-governmental organizations (NGOs) or farms.

Youngjoon Lim, the team leader, says, “Our team helped Goodr with three main deliverables: a logistics routing tool to reduce driving time for food pickups and deliveries, a new pricing strategy to maximize revenue and profit, and a carbon footprint tool to increase the visibility of Goodr's environmental impact.

“In this pandemic situation, Goodr has been delivering groceries to families in need in the Atlanta area. They reached out to our team and asked for a variation of the routing tool that could be used for these deliveries, as they had hundreds of different stops. We were able to shift gears in a couple days and provide a routing tool specifically for this situation. It was great to see one of our tools in action, especially in a way that was able to help the Atlanta community in this time of need.”

ISyE Director of Professional Practice and Senior Design Coordinator Dima Nazzal  says, "The hardships of delivering Senior Design projects during a pandemic equipped our students with a valuable skill; they’re more prepared today to deal with distant collaborations in the workplace, which could very well be a defining feature of future business operations.”

In other words, these Senior Design teams are doing exactly what they’ve been trained for: creating efficiencies and optimizing under constraints -- just what you would expect for students in the No. 1-ranked industrial engineering program in the U.S.

The Kinaxis team includes Nosrat Chowdhury, Brice Edelman, Osman Ghandour, Aniruddh Hari, Yash Lunagaria, Alice Pagoto, and Maria Yagnye.

The Buffalo Wild Wings team includes Diego Granizo, Ashwin Haritsa, Selin Karaoguz, Philip Murray, Katie Neil, Katie Wah, and Wilson Pu.              

The Goodr team includes Efe Birkan, Sarah Hamer, Youngjoon Lim, Ji Won Kim,  Ji Won Kim, Alejandro Sosa, and Da El Um. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has also resulted in the cancellation of the spring Capstone Expo, where Senior Design teams from across the Institute present their projects to the public. ISyE additionally hosts its own Best of Senior Design competition, which will still take place virtually on Tuesday, April 28. Three to five ISyE teams will be chosen to give their project presentation via BlueJeans to faculty and students, with one team selected as the semester’s most outstanding.

  • The Kinaxis Senior Design Team
    The Kinaxis Senior Design Team
  • The Buffalo Wild Wings Senior Design Team
    The Buffalo Wild Wings Senior Design Team
  • The Goodr Senior Design Team
    The Goodr Senior Design Team

For More Information Contact: 

Shelley Wunder-Smith

H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering