One of the annual fellowships given out by Georgia Tech’s Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE) is the Robert Goodell Brown Fellowship. This fellowship, created by Kimberly and J. King Harrison (whose son graduated from Georgia Tech), honors Robert Goodell Brown, who had a distinguished career in operations research.
The Harrison family, King in particular, had a close working and personal relationship with Brown over the 20 years prior to Brown’s death. In fact, King Harrison inherited Brown’s books and research materials after Brown died.
The reason for the endowment, according to Harrison, is because many graduate students in ISyE study supply chain management, and among the pioneers of the field, Brown certainly stands out as a person who should be known and taught. “He laid the groundwork for those of us out in the field who must try to build, teach, and support forecasting systems,” says Harrison.
Jan Vlachy, an ISyE Ph.D. student (OR 2017) advised by ISyE Professor Turgay Ayer (George Family Foundation Assistant Professor), is one of the two 2015-16 recipients. Vlachy says, “It is inspiring to be awarded a fellowship named after someone so famous, and I hope I will live up to the expectations."
Vlachy came to ISyE on the advice of his master’s degree advisor and because “ISyE is large and diverse, with a wide range of both methodologies and applications.”
His research is focused on using mathematical models to improve health care delivery: policy modeling for new health care delivery models and technology, but also more clinically relevant work. For instance, Vlachy, Ayer, and an undergraduate researcher, Lianyan Gu, are working with Children’s Hospital Colorado, specifically the emergency department, with doctors and nurses, to evaluate treatment of asthmatic children.
He explains, “For asthma, one study found that only about 24 percent of all doctors and nurses read, let alone follow, treatment guidelines. The rest of them rely on their gut or on what their teachers told them. But we have massive data from electronic health records, and what we’re looking for is whether it’s possible to extract the work flow from those records, and see what’s best for the children.” This will help health care professionals determine whether and when to give an asthmatic child a drug or how long an affected child can wait.
Vlachy continues, “There has been literature on discovering such work flows, but in general, what works in manufacturing, or banking, or the service industry does not work in health care. Health care processes are much more complicated. Each patient is so individual, and we don’t know what works for each patient. So that’s all part of the challenge: Was the different work flow appropriate for the patient, or was it a fluke?”
Eventually, Vlachy will work with health care professionals to see if the work flow algorithms he comes up with can help guide their clinical practice. Ultimately, the results of this research has application appeal to other emergency departments as well.
“It’s very validating to get some outside feedback on the work we are doing,” said Vlachy. “Often when we are submitting something or write up something, it takes time to see what impact it really has. We submit articles to journals and go through cycles and cycles of revisions. And any validation such as the Robert Goodell Brown fellowship says that we are doing something right.”
He notes, “[In ISyE] we are taught to think big.” Fittingly, Vlachy has big dreams for the future. He will spend this summer at the University of Chicago, thanks to a Data Science for Social Good Summer Fellowship. After graduating, he might like to work on significant social problems, perhaps as a data scientist for a mission-driven organization.
“The world is full of uncertainty, but the future is bright,” Vlachy adds.