Spotlight on Undergrad Caitlin Stuckey

While doing an internship in a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU) when she was a math major at Wells College in Aurora, New York, Caitlin Stuckey saw inefficiency there and how it affected everyone from doctors and staff to the babies in the NICU. It was this that sparked her interest in Industrial and Operations Engineering and led her to transfer to The University of Michigan. She says she was attracted to Michigan’s IOE program because of the connections with industry and the direct work on real world problems. As a sports fan, the social environment at Michigan also appealed to her.

Caitlin Stuckey

Caitlin’s interest in healthcare has continued throughout her time at IOE. While she appreciates the mentoring she received from Dan Nathan Roberts (IOE 2012 PhD graduate now at University of Wisconsin-Madison) and the talks she’s had with Associate Professor Amy Cohn on healthcare, Caitlin says it’s impossible to pick out just one or two inspirational people in her IOE career. “I have had a lot of good interactions with professors here. They’re all very open to conversation,” she says.

Though she says that this semester her life is controlled by her senior design course, Caitlin has in the past and continues to find time for extracurricular activities. “As an engineer, you have to be able to let off steam,” she says. She’s played intramural sports including volleyball and sand volleyball. She also participates in North Campus Service Days, days dedicated to community service and social actions. And she’s a member of Alpha Pi Mu Honor Society and Epeians Leadership Honor Society.

In addition to her course work and extracurricular activities, Caitlin works as a peer advisor to undergraduate students currently in or interested in entering the IOE program. She talks to current students about course load and making sure their work load is feasible as well as helping them do long term planning by mapping out upcoming semesters. She also talks to prospective students about what IOE is and what can be done with an IOE degree. “I’ve always liked teaching and helping others,” she says. “I am so excited about IOE and trying to share that with others and let them make their own choices is fulfilling.”

Caitlin is also active in The Society of Women Engineers (SWE) and a member of the organization’s Industry Committee. She is the End of Year Banquet and Scholarship Chair. According to their mission statement, “SWE is a non-profit educational service organization dedicated to making known the need for women engineers and encouraging young women to consider an engineering education.” The four main objectives of the group are: “To inform young women, their parents, counselors, and the public in general of the qualifications and achievements of women engineers and the opportunities open to them. To assist women engineers in readying themselves for a return to active work after temporary retirement. To serve as a center of information on women in engineering. To encourage women engineers to attain high levels of educational and professional achievement.” The organization holds career fairs, workshops, and company info sessions. They also award scholarships to members, work with charities, and do outreach in elementary, middle, and high schools explaining engineering concepts and helping young women see engineering as a feasible career option.

Caitlin’s hard work has not gone unnoticed. She’s on the Dean’s Honor list and this year she received an IOE Scholarship. “I’m happy about my own personal achievements,” she says, “but it’s nice to get external recognition. It just reinforces that you should continue to do a good job and put effort in.”

After graduation in May, Caitlin hopes to do a summer internship. For the following fall she is looking toward the possibility of entering the IOE Department’s new master’s program in Healthcare Engineering & Patient Safety. Caitlin says that post-graduate school she’d like to work on usability and quality in industry or in a hospital setting.

Spotlight on PhD Student Brandon Pitts

Brandon Pitts knew he wanted to continue to pursue his interest in human factors in graduate school after completing his bachelor’s in Industrial Engineering at Louisiana State University (LSU). His decision to attend The University of Michigan was born out of several factors. First, he knew he wanted to work with Dr. Nadine Sarter due to her work in aviation and human factors and, when it comes to University of Michigan’s IOE program, he says, “You can’t beat the rankings.” He was also a southerner looking to move north and happened to have family in Detroit.

Brandon works in Dr. Sarter’s The Human-Automation Interaction and Cognition (THInC) Laboratory. His research involves multi-modal information presentation and processing which is the presentation and processing of information through various sensory channels, in particular, vision, hearing, and touch. Most interfaces that people encounter on a day-to-day basis are heavily loaded with visual information. The ThinC Lab works on ways to use multi-modal interfaces to present information to other sensory channels, in an attempt to offset the visual channel. You can view Brandon and the other PhD students from the ThinC Lab talking about some of their research in the video below.

In particular, Brandon is working on a project to investigate how age, expectation, and task relevance affect people’s ability to process concurrent multimodal cues. He is using a driving simulator as the application domain for this project.

Brandon is currently supported by a National Science Foundation (NSF) Fellowship which he applied for and was awarded in his final year of undergraduate study at LSU. He says he appreciates the confidence that applying for and being awarded the fellowship has given him as well as the freedom and independence it provides to study subjects of interest to him. “I was able to work on things independent of what projects were already going on in the lab,” he says. He also feels that writing the application for the fellowship gave him some experience that will be helpful in the future when he is a faculty member and needs to write grants.

Brandon was able to share some of the lessons he learned during his application process recently in a fellowship application workshop. He says many students don’t know they can apply for the NSF or other fellowships as undergraduates and he hopes his experience will be an example to others to apply while still undergraduates or early in their graduate careers. He told students at the workshop that he was nervous and didn’t know much about the process when he began his application but he took a chance and it paid off. During his presentation he provided students with a list of what to do and what not to do during the application process which fittingly ended with “do believe in you and your essays” and “don’t be afraid.”

Brandon Pitts

Many people have influenced Brandon throughout his course of study. At Michigan he points to his advisor, Nadine Sarter. “One day I would like to be a faculty member and, I’m not just saying this because she’s my advisor, she’s everything a professor should be.” Brandon points to her understanding of the literature in their field, her support and guidance of students, and her excellence in research as qualities he hopes to emulate when he becomes a professor himself.

At Louisiana State University, Brandon was particularly impacted by his time in Vice-Chancellor Dr. Isiah M. Warner’s undergraduate research program. “He’s making such a profound impact on the university and chemistry,” Brandon says, citing in particular Dr. Warner’s LA-STEM Research Scholars Program. LA-STEM stands for Louisiana Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. According to the organization’s mission statement, “The goal of the LA-STEM Program is to promote the life and diversity of the STEM student body by bringing together students with diverse backgrounds and experiences. Led by Vice-Chancellor Dr. Isiah M. Warner, the program focuses on mentoring, education, and research as a way to achieve this goal and support student success.” Brandon says the program helped him and many others in research, academics, and preparing for graduate school and describes Dr. Warner as “an all-around great person.”

Brandon also mentions his family as a big influence in the direction his life has taken. No one in his family has pursued science or a PhD which he says drives him to push further. He tends to work a lot and drive himself hard and “they taught me to care for family because, at the end of the day, that’s what matters.”

Brandon’s activities at The University of Michigan aren’t limited to his research. He is vice president of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society (HFES). In that role he helps to plan, coordinate, and support events such as a lab tour night this fall and, coming up in winter, The Ergolympics and a Ford plant tour. He is also president of the Society of Minority Engineers and Scientists – Graduate Component (SMES-G). Last year he helped the organization with their State of the Union Conference which looked at increasing pipeline and improving the campus climate in terms of diversity. He led a session teaching middle school students about IOE. “I think it is key for them to see other minority students who have excelled as an example that they can too,” he says. He is also a member of the Alpha Pi Mu Industrial Engineering Honor Society, Institute of Industrial Engineers (IIE), Epeians Engineering Leadership Honor Society, and Tau Beta Pi Engineering Honor Society.

Brandon is currently in the second year of his PhD so he has time before figuring out his next steps but he’s committed to a future as a faculty member. “I really do have a passion for research and teaching,” he states. He also wants to bring his love of community involvement and mentoring to his future faculty position.