Alex Schmid had no idea what kind of engineering she wanted to do when she got to Georgia Tech. While applied mathematics and modeling were favorite subjects of hers, she also reveled in the problem-solving and thought processes involved with engineering. She browsed the required courses for almost all of the other engineering disciplines before finally stumbling on ISyE. Reading over the description was like “finally putting a name to what she had always wanted to do.”
After deciding on ISyE, Alex didn’t think twice before choosing operations research as her concentration. She had some exposure in high school with tasks such as modeling a baseball game with Markov chains. “Operations research is all about using mathematical tools to solve real world problems. I love problem-solving and formulating models to the specifics of the situation, rather than memorizing a one-size-fits-all formula.”
It’s no secret that life at Georgia Tech and ISyE can be demanding. To balance her intense academic work, Alex plays rugby and participates in Crossfit. “Exercise is really important for me to clear my head and focus,” she said, “There is nothing better than taking your energy out on the field to help you forget about the three tests you have coming up next week.”
What do you like best about your ISyE education so far?
The best part of the ISyE program for me is the analytical and operations research component. After learning the basics of optimization and stochastics, I was amazed at the diverse set of problems that I could solve. ISyE does a great job of teaching the technical skills and more importantly, the critical thinking skills. The concepts train your brain to think like an engineer.
I love that most of the courses in the ISyE department have a strong focus on mathematics. I think Georgia Tech IEs are so valuable because they approach problems very analytically. Many classes teach new programming languages and software packages as well, giving us the tools to actually build the models we learn about.
What advice would you give to a student interested in ISyE?
Try research! From what I know, there aren't many undergraduate IEs that do research. The faculty at Georgia Tech are world-class and research is a great opportunity to work with them one-on-one. The projects I work on have taught me more about optimization and data analysis than most of my classes. It's also benefited my problem-solving skills and independence.
I understand that you’ve participated in a couple of undergraduate research project. Would tell us a little about your projects?
I am working with Dr. Joel Sokol to develop an optimization model for determining playoff tiebreak scenarios in the NFL. The NFL has a lengthy process for deciding what team makes the playoffs and the rules differ depending on the number of teams tied and whether they are competing for the division championship or the wildcard. A few weeks out from the end of the season, it's difficult for teams to determine if they have clinched a playoff spot and which remaining games are crucial for them to win. The model I'm working on uses thousands of binary variables to work out all of the tie scenarios and then configures game outcomes that would optimize a team's chances for winning their division or clinching a wildcard.
I also started a project with Dr. Dima Nazzal this semester dealing with class scheduling in ISyE. The goal is to assign instructors to courses and time slots that minimize overlap of classes students usually take in the same semester and satisfy as many instructor preferences as possible. It's a really interesting project and it could have a lasting impact on the ISyE department and improve the registration process for students.
What are your plans after graduation?
I plan on going to graduate school in operations research. Eventually I'd like to become a professor because I love both research and teaching. I started a research project this semester and it got me really interested in discrete optimization. I like applied operations research a lot, but recently I’ve taken an interest in the theory of optimization algorithms. Thankfully, I still have a few years to figure out what exactly I want to study.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever received?
Don't be afraid to take risks and fail. The transition from being a top student in high school to being surrounded by all of the brilliant students at Tech can make you doubt yourself and your abilities. I've had to learn that the only way to grow is to go after what you want and not be afraid to make mistakes. I still struggle with this on a daily basis, but I remind myself that every accomplishment in my life began with a risk.
Who is your hero and why?
My hero is my late grandfather, Ernie Schmid. He was a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force and my family always said I got my analytical skills from him. He was a brilliant man and a loving and supportive grandfather. Plus, he has a mountain named after him, Mount Schmid in Antarctica.
Tell me something about yourself that few people know.
I started playing rugby when I came to Tech, and the summer after my freshman year I got selected to the Junior All-American team. I got to go to the Olympic Training Center in Chula Vista, CA and work with some of the best coaches and players in the country. I didn't make the travelling side, but it was an incredible experience.