ORIE team led by Jody Zhu takes first place in IISE undergraduate research competition

IISE Annual Virtual Conference presentation screenshot

A team of Cornell undergraduates led by rising senior Qihan (Jody) Zhu received first-place in the Institute of Industrial & Systems Engineers (IISE) Operations Research Division 2021 Undergraduate Research Dissemination Award, announced last month at the annual IISE conference, which was held virtually due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Jody Zhu
Jody Zhu

Zhu, who is studying both operations research and engineering and computer science, was working on updating ENGRI 1101: Engineering Applications of Operations Research course last summer under the direction of David B. Shmoys, the Laibe/Acheson Professor of Business Management and Leadership Studies. Shmoys decided that the problem of determining the maximum number of seats usable with social-distancing constraints would make a timely new lab exercise as part of this ongoing redesign effort. Zhu and Ph.D. student Sander Aarts began work on the lab, using computer vision to identify chairs from architectural drawings of a classroom combined with a state-of-the-art optimization model. They had the basic workings of a tool that could automate this process when the Office of the University Architect (OUA) reported to Shmoys that their own approach to providing drawings for Cornell’s reopening for fall 2020 was proceeding slower than anticipated. Undergraduate students Kyle K. Greenburg and Trey Hensel, overseen by Samuel Gutekunst Ph.D. ’20, were brought on to work with OUA and helped Cornell replan all classrooms to be used in the fall, thereby increasing the capacity by hundreds of seats across campus.

The team’s work was outlined in the paper, “An automated tool for optimal classroom seating assignment with social distancing components,” by Kyle K. Greenberg, Trey Hensel, Qihan Zhu, Sander Aarts, Samuel C. Gutekunst, and David B. Shmoys.

“It was a great team effort—although Jody and Sander had set up the initial framework, the full group helped refine the user interface so that it could then be used at other institutions,” said Shmoys.

group zoom capture“We built a tool that takes in an image of a floor plan and returns the floor plan with the optimal solution, seats to be used, marked,” said Zhu. “I would say our biggest accomplishment, and one that the judges at the conference liked, was how we automated most of the process in a tool that anyone can access, use, and extend.”

The Cornell ORIE paper topped the other two finalists—Mercer University and Purdue/Virginia Tech. Iowa State University and the Rochester Institute of Technology sponsor the award.

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