Carolyn Wu, Informatics Undergraduate

Carolyn Wu

Hi! My name is Carolyn and I’m going to be a senior in the fall studying Informatics. Although my goal is to go into public health, I wanted to spend my undergrad studying statistics and engineering to apply to my future career.

On my first day at CHEPS, I immediately noticed how welcoming Amy and the rest of the staff were to new students. I felt then that no questions were dumb and mistakes would be seen as growth, not failure. Seeing Amy around the office while she was juggling tens of projects and her teaching responsibilities also showed me what a female mentor could be – someone who is deeply involved in each project and always willing to care for the students in this program.

Carolyn and some of her Eye Access team members in a summer 2020 virtual meeting

The project that originally drew me to CHEPS and the one I have spent the majority of the last year on is the Eye Access project. With my interest in public health, I wanted to learn more about how a person’s geographic location affected their access to healthcare resources. For this project, we built models that distributed different types of eye care providers in various Georgia and Central Alabama locations to optimize the number of patients that are screened and treated. Screening is extremely important because it is a simple preventative measure for eye diseases like glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, and cataracts. Trained technicians can use technology to give screenings that can supplement care for areas that cannot afford to staff an ophthalmologist or optometrist. These areas are usually geographically rural with an aging population at increased risk for eye diseases.

It has been exciting seeing how telehealth is used in this Eye Access project and also how it is being expanded throughout our healthcare system. Especially with the current pandemic, screenings and treatments that can be done at home will begin to be more and more appealing. An online conference I attended earlier this month spoke about how smartphones can diagnose diseases before symptoms even appear through tracking heart rate, blood pressure, oxygen, and other measurements. The impact of catching asymptomatic diseases earlier is a really exciting vision presented by telehealth.

I’m also excited about how health technology can improve health inequities. A major focus in the field of public health is tackling root causes instead of spending absurd amounts of money after the problem has spiraled out of control. One root cause of health disparities is the systems of racism that have disproportionately distributed resources throughout history. As seen in this study on vision health disparities, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma prevalence are both higher in the African American community. By 2020, the number of people with eye diseases and vision loss could increase by 50% or more because of the aging of the U.S. population which will also disproportionately affect communities of color. With vision loss as a serious issue of public health disparity, I am thankful to work with CHEPS projects that are implemented through the lens of equity.

What I appreciate most about CHEPS is the constant opportunity to learn in the community – whether that’s someone helping me with a pesky Excel bug, the discussions about documentaries on racism, or the Q&A’s we get to have with alumni. During our lunch hours, we’ve also been watching a series on healthcare policy in the US and I’ve learned so much about the history of healthcare reform. Incorporating public health, policy, and the experiences of providers into healthcare engineering has helped me understand the system in a more holistic and complete way.

Although I’m not entirely sure where I’ll end up after graduation, I hope to work in local government for a few years before attending public health graduate school. I’m so so thankful for this experience at CHEPS as it has solidified my desire to go into healthcare and shown me the power of technology to improve access to care, optimize hospital processes, and to work towards health equity for all people.

Kristine Wang, 2020 Computer Science B.S.

Kristine Wang

My name is Kristine Wang and I just graduated this May with a bachelor’s in computer science. Wow, that feels a little bit weird to say. I’ve been working at CHEPS since the summer after my sophomore year and now through my senior year. Since that time, I have been on a wide array of projects and have gotten to know so many amazing people. I think CHEPS really solidified the course I wanted my life to take, and I thank every person I’ve been able to meet through CHEPS for that.

Before starting at CHEPS I already had some interest in healthcare, working on a project team that tried to address medical needs in various communities. Even then, I still felt that healthcare seemed like an odd path for a computer science student to take. I really did not know what to expect outside of a project team setting. Part of me thought I was destined to sit behind a computer not really knowing why I was doing something. CHEPS was not like that. CHEPS brought me to a side of healthcare I never really thought I would experience or could ever experience. Most of my work before CHEPS was more patient-centered, which I think is what most people think of when engineers work on healthcare challenges. Even if someone is working on a device or service for the providers to use it is generally centered around the patient. This makes sense, but the projects I worked on through CHEPS were mostly all focused on improving the lives of the providers themselves. Additionally, working in an IOE centered lab taught me some interesting aspects of scheduling and other engineering disciplines that I otherwise would not have learned. I think CHEPS gives an amazingly well-rounded insight into healthcare operations by giving me opportunities to learn about research topics, solve real problems, and interact with a wide array of people.

Kristine and the summer 2020 shift scheduling team

During my time at CHEPS, I mostly worked on Provider Scheduling projects and additionally the M-SAFETY project. Provider scheduling projects were projects that looked to automate the process of scheduling various providers (attendings, residents) while improving those schedules by understanding provider preferences. On the other hand, M-SAFETY was a project that attempted to make an additional display to the vitals monitor in a step-down ICU, that would improve communication between doctors and nurses specifically concerning pressure wounds and catheters.

Starting on provider scheduling was honestly a little bit confusing for me. In the computer science curriculum, scheduling is always said to be a “hard” problem and so no “fast” solution to solving them. At the time I had never heard of linear programming before and did not understand how you could use linear algebra to solve a scheduling problem. These were all important concepts that, although focused on an IOE perspective, showed me how my mathematical education could be used to solve problems. It was cool! So not only did I get to work on solving these problems, but I would also get to implement these formulas. I got the experience of working with a large existing codebase with Shift and scheduling residents, starting my own completely new codebase with Trauma scheduling attendings, and working on databases and web design with M-Safety. Each project although they had similar problems taught me, besides the code aspects of it, how to interact with people in every aspect of healthcare and what they seem to care about. I thought all these experiences thoroughly balanced the research, practical, and professional parts of working in healthcare. I love that I was given the opportunity to really make these projects my own and given so many opportunities to learn and participate.

CHEPSters blueberry picking together in summer 2018

In addition to the research experience, the CHEPS community has also been an important part of my college career. I’ve met people and watched them graduate and now others are watching me leave. It’s kind of a strange feeling because CHEPS has been such an anchor throughout my college career. Before when I was feeling a little lost at the end of my sophomore year, until now through this pandemic, it’s been great to see so many friendly faces. Summers in Ann Arbor would not have been the same without CHEPS: blueberry picking, cascades, volleyball. The school year would not have been as festive without the treats, holiday parties, and reunions. Thanks for always making me feel cared for. Now partly because of CHEPS, I’ll be off to Kansas City to work at Cerner a health information company. I hope to bring some of CHEPS there with me and hope to see anyone who happens to be down there 😊.

Nicholas Zacharek, Industrial & Operations Engineering Undergraduate

Nick Zacharek

My name is Nick and I am an incoming junior studying Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE). During my time at CHEPS, I have worked on a variety of projects ranging from simulation, provider scheduling, and data analytics. Being part of the CHEPS family has been the most meaningful experience I have had at Michigan–academically, professionally, and socially.

I started working at CHEPS the summer after my first year. I had recently transferred to the College of Engineering and was very nervous about my future at Michigan. Early in my freshman year, I lost interest in Biochemistry (my original major) and decided to take the engineering prerequisites in case I wanted to transfer. These courses lived up to their reputation and I found them extremely challenging, especially Math 116.

I started at CHEPS with limited programming experience and no formal training in IOE principles. However, instead of being given all the “dirty work,” I instead received encouragement and support from the staff and senior students. During my first summer, I learned more than I have in any class or other experience. Not only was I introduced to most of the IOE topics I’d learned about throughout the last year, but I also substantially improved my programming skills to the point where I am now considering a computer science minor. I attribute a lot of my success during the last year to my time at CHEPS.

Nick at the January 2020 IOE Open House sharing his work with prospective IOE students

During the sophomore year of IOE, a lot of new technical skills are brought to the table. For many students, it is easy to get lost in the technicalities of the coursework, and not see the bigger picture. CHEPS served as the perfect accompaniment to these classes due to its direct applicability. Thanks to CHEPS, I am more confident academically and professionally. For example, working on provider scheduling projects at CHEPS made IOE 310, known as the hardest IOE course, a lot more enjoyable as I had seen real-world applications of many of the topics covered in that course.

I could not write a CHEPS blog without mentioning the community aspect of CHEPS. It’s been very special to become good friends with so many people whom I would have otherwise not met. CHEPS has cultivated a community where I feel that I can always ask for help or simply just find someone to talk to about anything. Whether it’s formulating an optimization model, competing in the NY Times Daily Mini crossword, or a CHEPS Thursday, every experience of mine at CHEPS has been fantastic. I look forward to coming back for CHEPS reunions in years to come.

More than anything, I believe CHEPS has given me a “lens” through which to view the world. The practical application of IOE principles done day-to-day at CHEPS has become part of my DNA. Every time I go to the airport, I cannot help but think about the optimization of the flight network and other operational activities. Although my work at CHEPS has been focused on healthcare, I can easily draw parallels from these projects to the operations of other industries.

This blog would be way too long if I discussed all that CHEPS has given me, but I am going to keep it short. There is a reason why I tell everyone in IOE or CS to apply to CHEPS. I feel so fortunate to be part of CHEPS for more than a year, and I hope to remain during the rest of my time at Michigan.

Matt See, 2020 Chemistry B.S.

Matt See

Name? Year? Program? Where are you from? Are you new to CHEPS? And a boring or interesting fact about yourself. My name is Matt. I am a recent graduate of U of M. I come from Ann Arbor, MI. I am not new to CHEPS and I am right-handed. (I had to go with the classic.)

I figure I should start this blog the same way that CHEPS always starts its semesters: with questions that help introduce ourselves at CHEPS at our kickoff meetings. I started at CHEPS in the Fall 2016 semester, newly recruited by Amy at my sister’s wedding. If you want that story, you should ask Amy. Joining CHEPS was pretty difficult for me. I knew what they did, and I knew of the engineering research magic that went on behind the scenes. I didn’t think I could bring anything to the table. My technical skills were limited. I hadn’t taken any significant college courses or really ever done research. I didn’t even think I wanted to do research. I was focused on becoming an MD. Clearly, a lot has changed between then and now.

Matt presenting his work on the pre-mix project at the 2019 Undergraduate Symposium

I spent the majority of my time at CHEPS on the Chemotherapy Pre-Mix project under the mentorship of Donald Richardson. Together, we created a dynamic tool that could be used by pharmacists in the UM Rogel Cancer Center to determine which chemotherapy treatments could be mixed ahead of time before a patient arrives, saving both patient waiting time and pharmacy tech overtime costs while reducing the number of treatments wasted. Over the course of the project, I was able to get into the pharmacy and drug mixing environment and became more interested in the chemistry aspect of things, rather than the healthcare aspect of things. Why did drugs only last 8 hours, 12 hours, or even 2 hours after they mixed? Why did they decompose so quickly (or not)? These were questions I could begin to investigate as I dove further into chemistry. Through the rest of my time at Michigan, I shifted away from becoming a medical doctor toward research to answer fundamental questions.

I can’t imagine doing anything else besides research and I am now pursuing a Ph.D. in Chemistry at UC Berkeley. I found new research interests in renewable energies and green chemistry. More than 80% of the global energy demand is met with some sort of consumption of fossil fuels. This resulted in a 35% increase in total greenhouse gases since 1990 with the increase in globalization and industrialization of our world. Practical technology is coming that can transform solar energy into hydrogen gas or upgrade agricultural waste products into renewable biofuels along with new technologies to sequester the unwanted gases we already put out there. This is an area of research I hope to push the boundary of.

Moving forward, there is so much I am going to miss at CHEPS. I’m going to miss the endless amounts of treats and snacks all around the office, the spontaneous trips to the volleyball courts, shooting hoops in the breakroom, and conducting research hand-in-hand with so many medical professionals through collaborations I never thought I’d get a chance to have.

To me, CHEPS is what research should be. Results are great and results definitely come but it’s the emphasis on the students and the educational experience that make CHEPS special and so hard to leave. We are able to learn how to conduct and enjoy research (even with its frustrations…). CHEPS has laid a very strong research foundation for me that I hope to continue to build upon.