CHEPS Student Blog

Adam VanDeusen, Industrial and Operations Engineering Ph.D. Student

Adam VanDeusen

At CHEPS, our interdisciplinary teams apply engineering tools to solve important problems in healthcare. While we may not always classify it as such, our work often fits within the scope of “health services research” (HSR), a field that considers how healthcare is organized and delivered, and how these systems impact components like healthcare quality, cost, and access. HSR is a key focus of several CHEPS partner organizations in Ann Arbor, including the University of Michigan Institute for Healthcare Policy and Innovation (IHPI) and the Veterans Affairs (VA) Center for Clinical Management Research. I have found working with these and other collaborators to be meaningful because we have leveraged quantitative skills to change how healthcare is provided, primarily through improving access to care.

A recent report from AcademyHealth led by Jonathan Grant outlined a need for more incentives in HSR for research that yields societal impact. In this report, Grant posits that academic researchers are under-motivated to conduct research that has meaningful societal impact because they spend time meeting alternative demands, including tenure guidelines, funding source rules, and graduate degree requirements. As I was reading this report, I reflected on how societal impact is incentivized in engineering education and the need for more human-centered engineering education.

The vision of Michigan Engineering is to “(aspire) to be the world’s preeminent college of engineering serving the common good,” and the National Society of Professional Engineers lists the top canon in its Code of Ethics that engineers will “hold paramount the safety, health, and welfare of the public.” Whether we intend it or not, our work as engineers will impact human beings. Civil engineers create infrastructure plans that will impact climate change. Computer scientists design algorithms that impact judicial sentencing. Biomedical engineers develop technologies that impact the outcomes of life-saving surgeries. Yet, in our education, how often do we truly consider these impacts and, perhaps more importantly, the unintended outcomes of how our tools are implemented?

I earned both my undergraduate and (almost!) graduate degree in Industrial and Operations Engineering at the University of Michigan. I have been fortunate to be able to address meaningful problems in healthcare by using the quantitative methodology learned in the classroom and deepened through applied research. However, few degree requirements mandate that students consider the human-level impact of the tools we are being trained to deploy. I took only a handful of courses in which people, not math or science, were the focus, and those were generally courses that I opted to take. For example, I chose to take a senior design course that focused on industrial engineering projects in hospital systems. Working with my student teammates on a project that improved how Michigan Medicine inpatient rooms were effectively cleaned gave me experience working on a real-world project, but also contributed to decreasing the risk of hospital-acquired infection for Michigan Medicine patients.

While some baseline quantitative training is required to gain the skills needed to tackle real-world problems, engineers should leave a degree program with a deep understanding of how our discipline impacts other people. This can be improved through shifting degree requirements to include courses in areas like public health or the environment, as well as by recalibrating current requirements to ensure students are deepening the context to consider the human impact, beyond spending one-third of a lecture talking about engineering ethics so that accreditation requirements are met.

I am not the first person to consider the needs for human-level impact to be a focus in engineering. Groups like IDEO have championed human-centered design and U-M Dearborn offers a degree in human-centered engineering design. This fall, Boston College will welcome its first class of a Human-Centered Engineering program, where students will focus on solving global issues in the domains of health and the environment.

Adam and VA Eye Access team members in a summer 2020 virtual meeting

At CHEPS, students, faculty, and collaborators keep societal impact as a focus while also pushing students to enhance their quantitative skills. A key example can be seen in our work with the VA to improve access to chronic eye disease screenings. In this project, we aimed to improve access to eye care for veterans using a mixed-integer program that allocated different types of providers throughout a set of geographically dispersed clinics. During team meetings, our discussions ranged from how we could ensure geographically equitable access for patients to how we could restructure our optimization model to incorporate stochasticity of patient counts. My teammates and I were able to complete this project with improved industrial engineering skills, and a sense for how our models could make an impact.

I am thankful that CHEPS and other research groups exist where students can conduct human-centered engineering research. These research groups allow us to not only strengthen our engineering skills by really considering how to structure an optimization problem, but also ask questions like, “what kind of patients will be impacted if we were to relax the constraint that requires a clinic location in every county?” While this type of applied research may not be suitable for every engineering student, the world would certainly benefit if every engineering student had a more thorough understanding of how their work impacts others.


Emmett Springer, Biomedical Engineering Undergraduate

Emmett Springer

Hello! My name is Emmett Springer and I’m a 4th-year student studying Biomedical Engineering. I started working at CHEPS last January and have had the pleasure of working on several awesome projects, including Specialty Access, Outpatient Surgery (OPS) Revamp, and Pharma Staff Planning. I’m excited to start my Master’s degree in Industrial & Operations Engineering in the fall and continue to do great work with CHEPS!

As I wrap up my undergraduate degree, I’ve been reflecting a lot on what I’ve learned during my time at U of M so far and how I can apply those lessons as I continue in my academic and professional journey. Being involved in CHEPS for the past year has contributed significantly to my growth and has been so valuable as I figure out what I want to do with my career. I also love sharing what I’ve learned with those around me and I’m a sucker for a good, old-fashioned numbered list. Therefore, I present to you: Emmett Springer’s Top 5 CHEPS Lessons of 2020 (in no particular order):

1. There is so much important healthcare operations work to do

When I entered the college of engineering nearly three and a half years ago, I thought I wanted to pursue a career in medical device design, as many biomedical engineers do. While I still have a great appreciation for the work that goes into medical device design, I came to realize that my interests and strengths were more aligned with work involving healthcare delivery on a systems-level. For the past year as I’ve focused on this new direction, I continued to learn not only how little I know about healthcare systems (being the huge, complex beasts that they are), but also how much work needs to be done to optimize these systems. This pandemic has also shed an interesting light on our healthcare systems, demonstrating the incredible resilience of healthcare workers while exposing areas in need of re-engineering. Through various CHEPS projects and other CHEPS learning opportunities, I’ve gotten a glance into the healthcare world and I feel confident that this is where I want to be working and bring about positive change.

2. Adaptability and flexibility are crucial

It’s no surprise that adaptability stood out to me this year and I know I am far from the first person to talk about adaptability and flexibility in the era of Covid-19. Clearly a large part of my CHEPS (and U of M) experience has been adjusting to an online environment, however, there’s something else I want to point out too. I was told going into this summer to be prepared to work hard, produce quality work, and yet potentially have a large portion of that work not carried through to its intended end-goal. This was tough for me to hear at first, but I’ve learned that in this line of work (and especially amidst a global pandemic) it’s essential to adapt your work to fit the current (and often quickly changing) need, regardless of how much time or effort you put into a previous approach or project. At the end of the day, no work is wasted work because you’ve either learned a new skill, learned something new about the project, or both!

A virtual meeting of the Specialty Access team in summer 2020

3. Empathetic and engaged leadership is strong leadership

Ok, this is the part where I get to gush about our incredible CHEPS faculty and staff. I am certain that my CHEPS experience wouldn’t be the same without Amy, Liz, Gene, and Billy. I’m so grateful for the empathetic and supportive environment that they’ve provided during this hectic, messy, and often stressful time. I know that each of them values me as an individual human being, not just a vessel to achieve work and that attitude permeates throughout CHEPS. Both professional and student leadership at CHEPS have also demonstrated a strong commitment to the CHEPS students, always offering valuable help and guidance so that we can achieve high-quality work. In my future career and life, I hope to lead with the positivity and dedication that they’ve shown me!

4. Continuous learning is awesome

An important aspect of CHEPS is the commitment to continuous student learning. This was made especially clear for me this summer when, in lieu of us not being able to connect in person, we had an hour set aside every day for “Lunch Club”, which included student presentations, journal club, and Lunch & Learns with guest speakers. This commitment to learning wasn’t just confined to the summer, though, and because of CHEPS, I’ve attended a number of interesting Lunch & Learns, webinars, and presentations that have changed how I think about healthcare systems and delivery. Learning is an important part of our project work too, of course, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to explore different areas and learn new skills through my projects. Every student has the ability to take control of their education and learn what they find valuable with the multitude of resources available to them here at the University.

5. Appreciate the little, silly things

This one is also a bit of a shout-out to our professional staff, specifically Liz and Gene. Between Liz’s memes in our daily good-morning emails and Gene’s silly “Items needed from staff” in our weekly memo reminders, I’m reminded to smile. Growing older and more experienced shouldn’t have to mean being serious all of the time. Life is brighter with a bit of silliness here and there!


Sebastian Munoz, Industrial & Operations Engineering Undergraduate

Sebastian Munoz

Hello! My name is Sebastian and I am a current junior from Colombia/Brazil. I am studying Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE) with an intended double minor in Computer Science and International Studies. I’m still trying to figure out exactly what it is that I want to do with my future career but working at CHEPS has definitely opened my eyes to the possibilities associated with healthcare.

I had interned as an Industrial Engineer at Walt Disney World earlier this year and absolutely fell in love with the idea behind optimizing various business processes and facilitating improved operations. To give some context, Industrial Engineers at Disney function very similarly to internal business consultants, helping drive organizational change across various clients and departments. The unprecedented arrival of the coronavirus pandemic then led me to question whether it was possible to combine these personal interests of mine along with a burning desire to have a greater health-related impact. This constant questioning resulted in some great conversations with close friends about the kind of work that goes on at CHEPS, after which I was determined to learn more about how to get connected and have that sort of impact.

That being said, I’m very grateful to say that this is my first semester at CHEPS! I’m working on two separate provider scheduling projects: Shift Scheduling and Block Scheduling. I’m sure that some of the other CHEPS blogs will cover the project fundamentals in a more detailed manner, but in case you’re interested they involve using integer programming models to meet the many needs involved in scheduling practitioners. On top of that, I’ve recently been assigned to help out with a COVID-19 related project that is super interesting – all in all, I can confidently say that my short time here so far has been fantastic. There is definitely a steep learning curve and working in a virtual environment is interesting, to say the least, but the CHEPS family truly does a fantastic job in making everyone feel welcome. No questions are bad questions, and people truly care about how you are doing in spite of everything that is going on.

I am genuinely excited by the fact that I still have a lot to learn and am confident that my experiences at CHEPS will teach me many invaluable lessons that I will carry with me throughout my life. Although my time here has been short, I have forged some very close friendships with many people whom I would have otherwise not met. I feel so fortunate to have the opportunity to work at CHEPS, and I hope to someday soon be able to meet all the wonderful people that I’ve connected with in person!


Pushpendra (Ishu) Singh, Industrial & Operations Engineering Master’s 2020

Pushpendra (Ishu) Singh

Let us start this blog the usual CHEPS kickoff way. Hi, my name is Pushpendra Singh, you can call me Ishu. I am a recent graduate of U of M, with a master’s in Industrial and Operations Engineering along with a graduate certificate in Computational Discovery and Engineering. I come from a small town of Faizabad in India. I have been with CHEPS for a year now. As a child I was ambidextrous. That’s it, that is a standard CHEPS introduction.

Let me take you back to the time when I was still in India and still had not resigned from my full-time job as an SAP consultant. From all the offers I had for pursuing my masters, I had chosen Michigan and was waiting for my visa. I got an email from the department suggesting I consider the HEPS program. I was sure I wanted to go into optimization research but was not sure what would be my field of application. I ignored the email and I still regret it. Fast forward to my first summer, while I was working with Prof. Viswanath and I met Karmel. I told her about my application to CHEPS and my penchant for healthcare and aviation, she told me all about the lab and its environment. That was the moment I knew that I was in for a treat.

I still remember the first day when I was in the CHEPS building to meet Dr. Amy. I was all up for answering the technical questions. Although that did happen, it was more about me telling her about myself. There was a welcoming feel in that meeting. While Dr. Amy was giving me a tour of the workspace, I saw a lot of students around. Now I am one of those people who cannot walk up to someone and introduce myself, forget about striking a conversation. I would usually find the corner and keep to myself even when I want to talk. But that is where CHEPS is very very unique, people are friendly and make you feel at home.

In CHEPS, I got to work on simulation-based projects like system concepts for optimization and personalization of endoscopy, specialty access, and simulation core code. These projects helped me understand the crucial role operations research techniques play in one’s real life and how powerful they are. I learned how an integrated tool for simulating the scheduling and clinical operations is important to determine the effects of patient preferences, scheduling policies, waiting time, overtime, and idle time. I am super thrilled to be presenting the work at the IISE conference this year. With COVID-19 interrupting the day to day operations of the clinics, the telephone and video appointments that we studied in the specialty access project just made me realize how super practical the things I have been involved in while being at CHEPS are.

A virtual meeting in summer 2020 to discuss a paper on colonscopy scheduling

With the enriching experience of research in healthcare, now that I am starting my Ph.D. at Dartmouth College in Operations Research, I cannot imagine myself doing anything but research. My love for airports has finally been incorporated in my academic life as well, as the first project that I am undertaking as a Ph.D. student is about airlines’ passenger delay analysis. The central theme of my research is going to be the study of airline scheduling and passenger delay analysis and healthcare analysis. Thanks to Dr. Amy and CHEPS, I am not completely new to them, which provides me with a good launching pad to start with.

I cannot stop myself from mentioning how many good students/colleagues I met at CHEPS. Jake (we worked together for a year, one of the nicest and calmest footballers I ever met), Nick, Tarek, Jordan, Jacob, Carolyn, Samir, Vai, and Che-Yi were all super cool. I must specially mention Adam, for all the mentoring he did for me while I was preparing my Ph.D. applications; all his suggestions were very great. I look forward to calling him Dr. Adam soon and hope to keep getting advice from him in the future. The summer at CHEPS was very different due to COVID but, with all the lunch club activities, it was still delightful. I enjoyed taking on the journal club and presenting the paper I read every week to the audience that was super eager to learn.

CHEPS is what a top-notch lab should be, not just in its work but with its welcoming environment. You can find many labs with great research work but believe me it is very hard to find a lab that is equally good in research and is welcoming as well. It helped me find a great lab here at Dartmouth as well (all thanks to Dr. Amy). If you are mentally struggling, stop at CHEPS, it will heal you. Talk to people, you will be encouraged. If you think you cannot do two things at once, many athletes at CHEPS do research along with sports regularly, you will get a new sense of encouragement from seeing them. CHEPS has laid a great foundation of research for me and it does the same for others as well. If you are at U of M, it is a place to visit.

Now that I am at Dartmouth, I am going to miss being a regular at CHEPS. I am going to miss brainstorming sessions with Dr. Amy and her words of wisdom as well as an extremely intelligent sense of humor. I will miss waking up to Liz’s email with a punch of cat memes. And everything else as well. But as we say, “you never really leave CHEPS.” I am looking forward to the wonderful in coming years.


Dean Golan, Industrial & Operations Engineering Undergraduate

Dean Golan

Like most others during March of 2020, I felt pretty lost in the destructive path of COVID-19. From the sudden shift of online learning to the looming threats of unemployment, college students during the summer of 2020 were hit particularly hard by the pandemic. Going into this summer, I had secured an internship in the network planning department of United Airlines – a position stacked with travel benefits and unique opportunities coveted by most – and I was busy worrying how I’d have enough weekends to visit all the exotic countries on my bucket list. However, when COVID began spreading rampantly throughout the US in early March, I knew the first industry to get hit hard was the airline industry, and I knew that I was bound to be unemployed soon enough.

As soon as I lost my job with United, I was quick to find a replacement opportunity. One of my good friends at Michigan approached me with a job as the Head of Gymnastics in a secluded sleep away camp in Ontario to teach gymnastics to campers aged 8 to 17. It would have been the experience of a lifetime, filled with endless nights by the fire, bunking with good friends, teaching things I was passionate about, and having constant exposure to nature. Once again, I was reignited with excitement and was eager to spend my summer in the wilderness of Ontario. But with the growing threat of COVID expanding into Canada and the US, there was lots of talk of the camp shutting down for the summer. Taking these threats of closure seriously as we were nearing the end of April, I had decided to reach out to Amy, Billy, and Julia to explain my predicament and inquire about an opening with CHEPS. Within a few weeks, I had received the good news that I was rehired for another summer at CHEPS.

Once I had started working remotely in Ann Arbor, I began to establish a pattern that revolved around my workdays – early mornings would typically consist of a run and subsequent swim in the Huron River, followed by my CHEPS workday, and finally the pursuit of my creative passions and outdoor activities in the afternoons. These activities would involve devoting countless hours to my slackline, scaling buildings in the diag (safely), playing tennis or volleyball with friends, or relishing in nighttime bonfires under the stars. Weekend trips were also a bountiful source of enjoyment. Some weekends would consist of backpacking and camping trips throughout Michigan or overnight canoe trips down the Manistee River, while others would be spent wake surfing in Clarkston or hanging around town in Ann Arbor. Though I didn’t get to travel to the exotic destinations that United had promised me, I was still able to explore all that Michigan had to offer and develop deeper connections with my best friends in town.

At the start of CHEPS in May, I was assigned to lead the Shift Scheduling project along with my co-workers Kate Burns, Matt Howard, and Kristine Wang. This project mainly involved scheduling pediatric residents in the emergency department (PEDS ED) of Michigan Mott through the implementation of a complex optimization algorithm. One challenge that we faced was dealing with the implications of COVID-19 while also working through a transition between chief residents – the individuals in charge of scheduling for the department. During this time, the PEDS ED was also thinking about making significant changes to the scheduling algorithm, including adding double shifts, implementing “resident teams”, and modifying the expectations for bad sleep patterns built into the tool. This proved to be a fun and innovative challenge to tackle with my team while also bringing the new chief resident up to speed at the start of the summer.

Dean and other Shift team members in a meeting

About a month into my summer, I was added to the State Hospital Staffing (SH Staffing) project to help develop an Excel staffing tool for five different psychiatric hospitals in Michigan. The project first began as a diagnostic tool to help resolve staffing shortages for the Caro Center during the onset of the COVID-19 outbreak. However, due to the staggering success and usefulness of the tool outside of COVID-19 relief, Caro decided to expand the project to include a personalized diagnostic staffing tool for the four other state psychiatric hospitals in Michigan. To tackle this challenge, my team consisting of leader Jordan Goodman and co-workers Renata Terrazan, Matthew See, and Ducminh Ngo were each assigned one hospital to act as the bridge of communication between the hospital leadership and our SH Staffing team. I was partnered with the Hawthorn Center, a pediatric psych hospital located about 30 minutes outside of Ann Arbor.

Members of the State Hospital Staffing Team during a virtual meeting

During the onset of my work with Hawthorn, I was wildly unconfident in my abilities to lead meetings and effectively manage doctors and nurses as an undergraduate incoming senior. However, after getting to know Hawthorn’s leadership team on a personal level and learn more about the problems within their healthcare system, I was eager to offer my ideas for improvement in this mini-consulting project. One of the biggest problems I recognized early on was the lack of electronic records at the Hawthorn Center. For years, Hawthorn had been taking detailed accounts of schedule alterations, overtime shifts, sick calls, and vacations on paper and pencil. Not only was this a headache for the Hawthorn staff who had to interact with the data daily, but it was also a substantial roadblock for my team to have reliable data when constructing the staffing diagnostic tool. After constantly asking questions and learning more about the system in place, I developed an Excel tool that would allow Hawthorn’s staff to directly modify the schedule electronically and view each day’s schedule more efficiently than their previous system. The staff was exceptionally relieved to finally be moving towards electronic records, and their willingness to modify their system significantly helped my team complete the staffing diagnostic tool.

My summer at CHEPS was also marked with countless social activities, workouts, educational healthcare modules, and internal/external lunch-and-learns during our CHEPS Lunch Clubs. My co-worker Kate Burns and I were in charge of leading our Monday Wellness Lunch Clubs, which typically consisted of social games or activities through Zoom, instructional yoga practices, or guided meditations. One of the most notable lunch clubs was our CHEPS midsummer no-talent show, which consisted of over 15 participants showcasing talents (and “fake” talents) to the entire group over Zoom. Though the lack of in-person engagement began as a barrier, we took it upon ourselves to spam the Zoom chatbox with endless words of praise and famous one-liners from Dr. Amy Cohn as participants showcased their talents for the group. These Monday CHEPS wellness activities proved to be a meaningful source of social engagement to bring the CHEPS community together, and I can confidently say that I’ve made close friendships with my co-workers despite the distance of COVID. This summer has undoubtedly created lots of disorder and chaos for myself and my co-workers, but with the help of CHEPS, we were able to regain a sense of order, composure, and a newfound community in the heat of COVID-19.

Dean mid-flip while showing his slack line skills in the talent/no-talent show

Matt Howard, Industrial and Operations Engineering Undergraduate

Matt Howard

I remember very vividly complaining to my mom about my first few days working at CHEPS. So much paperwork, HIPPA and PEERS certifications, and other mundane tasks that bored me to no end. Similar to any onboarding experience, mine was filled was confusion and boredom. This time though, onboarding occurred over zoom calls and emails, which added more headaches to an already tough process. Then, I was put on my first two teams: PEDS resident scheduling and Trauma doctor scheduling, and even though I was clueless about what that meant, I was told to start working. However, after meeting with my two team leads and my assigned peer mentor, everything started to make sense. I especially remember one of my team leads telling me to just “give it a week,” which was frustrating advice to hear at the time, but in hindsight helped me have the patience to get over the learning curve.

Hi! My name is Matt Howard and I am a rising junior from Atlanta, GA. I am studying Industrial and Operations Engineering with a double minor in Computer Science and International Studies and this is my first summer at CHEPS. In addition to the two projects I mentioned above, I am also working on one more provider scheduling project, with a CHEPS alumnus in Beirut, as well as facilitating an online course teaching other students about the U.S. healthcare system and two other small organizational projects. Aside from my great projects, I have learned so much from working in CHEPS this summer that I want to share a bit of in this blog post, including how to onboard and work virtually, send good business emails, and stay organized.

Working through email and Zoom calls has definitely been better than I first expected. The CHEPS staff, in particular, has tried very hard to make this unprecedented summer as similar to normal as possible by designating 12:30-1:30 every day as “lunch club,” in which we participate in different activities either in small groups or as an entire CHEPS student body. These activities range from social/workouts on Mondays to Journal Club on Tuesdays to Lunch and Learns on Fridays. These activities allow us to meet and hang out with other CHEPS students that we don’t interact with in our project teams. We even did a virtual 5k run earlier in the summer, and I was able to participate even though I was home in Atlanta!

With all of these attempts to make life normal, there are some things I had to get used to when working virtually. The biggest piece of advice I can give is to be patient. Be patient with faulty connection, frozen screen sharing, or any other computer malfunction you can imagine. They happen. A lot. But everyone I’ve had the pleasure of being in a meeting with, both CHEPS students and faculty and residents and doctors at the hospital, have been extremely patient and helpful when these situations arise. I think everyone understands that adjustments have to be made, and are patient with them, especially in the medical community.

Matt and other Shift team members in a Zoom meeting

This summer I have also had the chance to improve my emailing skills. Although naïve, being able to send well-written emails is an important corporate skill to have. However, I must admit, whenever I send very important emails, for example, any email to Amy or a collaborator, I always run them by my teammates first. They are probably super annoyed at all the drafts I send out, but as the summer has gone along, the number of edits per draft has decreased, which I think means I am improving! Insert something about causation and correlation here. The biggest piece of advice when sending important emails, though, is to always read them over two or three times, each time looking at ways to improve them and check for errors. It may seem like overkill, but I think that having professional sounding emails makes a big difference in how you are perceived by people further up the ladder than you.

Lastly, organization is super important. To root this paragraph in context, last summer I did research for a different professor at a different University. The work was super cool, but he gave my partner and I a lot less structure, which led to us being super unorganized. We spent a lot of time at the end of the summer trying to retrace our steps and remember what we did. Not fun! That level of chaos would also NEVER fly with Amy, and I mean that in the best way. For anyone who reads this blog post that doesn’t know, CHEPS works through this online server, and it is spectacularly organized and documented. Every meeting has meeting notes, and every folder has subfolder after subfolder, keeping every document in the right place.

While I may have started my summer at CHEPS complaining about how boring the paperwork and necessary trainings were, I have nearly ended it with a huge smile on my face, having gotten to work on extremely meaningful projects with amazing people having learned a lot of new skills. I’ve also started to get used to the virtual working environment, as I realized that without the commute to North Campus, I get about 30 more minutes of sleep every night!


Luke Liu, 2020 Industrial & Operations Engineering B.S.

Luke Liu

Hello! My name is Luke and I have been at CHEPS for a little over a year now. I am a recent graduate and I studied Industrial and Operations Engineering with a minor in Computer Science.

So, let us start from the beginning! I first joined CHEPS during May of 2019. I had no idea what to expect at first. On the first day, I just remember reading a lot of HIPAA rules and regulations. Not super exciting, but I do realize the importance of taking the time and effort to do so. I was then placed onto three teams: Surgical Instruments, Shift Scheduling, and the AD ICU team. I am not going to bore you with all the details, but I will say AD ICU was the most interesting project in my opinion. I was the main coder for that, and we wrote simulation code (in C++) for patient flow through the cardiac ICU. I thought it was cool because I finally got to write code that wasn’t for a class or homework. What was even cooler to me was just being able to work with such a diverse set of people. We had undergrads to master’s students to Ph.D. candidates. It was honestly a lot of fun getting to know people and their backgrounds. One of my fondest memories of that summer was when we had a volleyball tournament outside. Although sadly my team didn’t do too well, it was still fun playing games and just goofing around with my coworkers!

A CHEPS volleyball game in June 2019

Going into the school year, work became a little different. With the onset of classes, clubs, and other obligations, it was harder to fit in working at CHEPS. But honestly, I was so thankful for the CHEPS family. There were many a time where I texted my project lead last minute as I did not have enough time to finish the code or emailed last minute for an absence due to illness. Through all of this, my coworkers, and the staff at CHEPS were always patient and understanding. I realized that even though I was still working at CHEPS, taking care of oneself was something that everyone valued over anything else. I will always be grateful for the cute little care packages during finals seasons that were packed with snacks and a note! I think just those little things made me deeply appreciative of the community.

Fast forward to this summer, things are even more different. Because of COVID 19, everything has gone virtual. It has honestly been difficult since Zoom brings a lot of technical difficulties; it’s actually the worst to sit through video chats that lag or stutter. But I’ve gotten used to it more and more! Lately, I’ve gotten a lot more used to using Zoom for everything, and after playing around with settings, things work more often than not now. We’ve also still been able to experience community through virtual student presentations, lunch and learns, and fun stuff like talents shows and sharing life hacks.

Members of the AD ICU team in a virtual meeting

One of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned from this past year is the importance of communication. Whether it’s giving Amy updates on the code, communicating with teammates, or emailing clinical partners, I’ve learned that it’s always better to be overly communicative rather than not. Another lesson that I’ve learned is to not be afraid to ask for help. There have been many times where I’ve been building a schedule or writing simulation code and just got stuck. It’s okay to ask for help in these cases. It’s okay to not know everything!

Before I go, I just want to give a huge shoutout to Amy, Liz, Julia, Billy, Gene, and all the other wonderful staff that make this possible 😊, y’all are awesome! Thank you for taking time out of your day to read this blog post and remember to always Go Blue!!


Renata Terrazzan, Public Health Undergraduate Student

Renata Terrazzan

Hello! My name is Renata Terrazzan and I am going into my senior year majoring in Public Health Sciences with a double minor in French and Environmental Studies. My goal is to go into Health Administration and get an MPH in health policy and management.

Being a Public Health major in this pandemic has been quite an experience. In a somewhat positive light, these past couple of months have been the first time in my life that someone has asked me my major and actually known what “Public Health” was. Which is one of the only – if not the only – highlight of this pandemic. For a long time, not having anyone know what Public Health was quite discouraging to me and even caused me to waver in my decision to pursue Public Health. Being involved in Public Health in my job this summer has helped me regain confidence in my field and helped me see the importance of it.

CHEPS played a huge role in deciding that I want to pursue an MPH. CHEPS really fell into my lap and I am so grateful it did. I was studying in the UGLi one day – stressing out about summer plans – when a friend and then current CHEPS student recommend I apply. I checked the website out and audibly laughed – this place had so many engineers, there’s no way I’d get in. But I reluctantly applied and – luckily – here I am!

The transition into CHEPS was one that was difficult but ended up being extremely beneficial. For the past three years, I have been exposed to a variety of health and pre-health professionals – public health professionals (of course), researchers, nurses, PAs, doctors, etc. But I had never worked with engineers, who have such a different background from my own. Engineering provides a very technical and scientific demeanor to approaching problems, and one that I was very intimated by. Whenever coding or any math concept was brought up in my meetings for the first couple of weeks at CHEPS, I would shy away from saying anything or even asking questions. But slowly, with the welcoming environment provided by my peers and the CHEPS staff, I began asking more questions and being more comfortable with conversations about those highly technical concepts. Although I may not know exactly what everything means, I am confident in my ability to at least understand the basics and provide my outlook as a public health-trained person. It has also given me the confidence to work in Hospital Administration, where various professionals report and discuss issues of all different levels and you are able to provide guidance and help to them.

I was placed in the State Hospital Staffing Project for CHEPS. This project works to help Psychiatric State Hospitals around Michigan assess their staffing needs. The project really consolidated my interests in hospital management and increasing efficiency in a hospital setting. I’ve spent a lot of time in the U-M hospital as a volunteer for the past 3 years but working behind the scenes has given me an entirely new perspective of the issues hospitals face. Currently, the team is working on building a workbook that will assess each State Hospital’s staffing needs and issues and project future staffing needs. This staffing project has given me the opportunity to talk to hospital administrators firsthand and get their perspective on all the areas that are lacking in their hospitals – things that I couldn’t even imagine when I was just a volunteer. I see the value of having the right tools to assess staffing needs and how understaffing can lead to so many problems in the field.

Members of the State Hospital Staffing Team during a virtual meeting

I really appreciate the diversity in the speakers and activities that the CHEPS team has given to its students this summer. While no one expected our summer bonding activities to be over Zoom, our Monday Socials and Tuesday Journal Clubs are greatly appreciated. The speakers that we have heard from every Friday are each in such different fields within health but are all so kind and generous about their experiences and very willing to help current students reach their goals. My mentor Joe East, who also spoke on a Friday Lunch and Learn, met with me for an hour and gave me great insight about Hospital Administration that I could have never gotten without the CHEPS mentorship program. I also appreciate the care that the students and staff have for each other, whether it be through kind messages in the GroupMe, movie nights about social justice, or emails from Amy about recent social issues, it provides for a very supportive work environment.

CHEPS is such a unique opportunity that I am very lucky to experience as an undergrad. It is exciting to be part of research that is helping people in real-time, unlike almost all other research that takes years to make it into the real world. I am lucky to be a part of this community that is able to meld so many different types of training backgrounds and see how they are all useful in our many projects. I hope to use all that I have learned and am continuously learning in order to optimize health as I move forward in my studies.


Alli VanderStoep, Industrial & Operations Engineering Master’s Student

Alli VanderStoep

Hello! My name is Alli VanderStoep and I am a second-year master’s student in the Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE) program. Although I am one of the older students, I am new to the CHEPS family. I began working at CHEPS at the beginning of May, so I have spent about two and a half months here and have enjoyed every minute of it!

One of the projects I am working on is the Outpatient Surgery (OPS) Revamp. The OPS Revamp team is quite large, with 10 students working with Amy who is spearheading the project. We are responsible for creating a tool to assist the University Hospital in scheduling the backlogged elective patient surgeries (due to COVID-19) and keeping track of their resource utilization. It is incredibly rewarding to contribute to this team effort and to receive positive feedback from the hospital surgeons that our tools are helping!

Another project I am working on is the Family Medicine (FM) Clinic project, which is brand new, like the OPS Revamp project. We are partnered with a CHEPS alumnus, a graduated medical student now in residency at a university in Lebanon. Our team is responsible for creating a tool to improve the scheduling process of the FM residents at the university. It has been a valuable experience to see the project unfold from the beginning. We started the process by talking to the collaborator and have since begun to create the mathematical formulation and the scheduling tool. I’m excited to see this project continue developing!

I will admit that working virtually has been a little weird. My first week was entirely dedicated to installing the secure connection software, accessing the server, and mapping to the project folders. Email, Zoom, and Slack have replaced in-person interactions. I learned more about Zoom than I ever could have ever imagined. Here is a running short list of Zoom tips and etiquette rules I’ve picked up:

  1. Keep yourself on mute in a large group…please
  2. End every call by waving goodbye
  3. Thumbs up and thumbs down are effective methods of communication
  4. There is a 50% success rate in screen sharing. If the shared screen freezes or displays a black screen, leave the meeting and come back

A drawback of remote work is the lessened social atmosphere. It is a bummer I am unable to spend time in person with the smart and passionate researchers, working at the SI building, eating burgers at Frita Batidos, or tubing down the Argo Cascades. I also hear that CHEPSters don’t mess around in pick up volleyball! But, instead of in-person activities, CHEPS has interwoven virtual social activities to make the summer as enjoyable as possible. I participated in the socially distanced 5k run last month, which was a hoot and a half! It was great to see a handful of my workmates in person and enjoy post-run brownies baked by Amy’s son Peter.

CHEPSters after running the socially distanced 5k to support COVID-19 work at Michigan Medicine

Additionally, every Monday during lunch, there is a Zoom social event. It rotates between a workout and a game. The first workout in which I participated was yoga… it might have been my last. Other students were smart in turning off their video cameras. I left mine on and almost tipped over in Warrior 3 pose. The game Covidopoly was a hit! It’s similar to Monopoly but with cards and an appropriate COVID theme. Mask cards are invaluable and collecting properties such as Cuomo Circle and New York Hospital will help you win the game.

Amidst all the craziness, the established CHEPSters made sure I felt warmly welcomed. I was also assigned a mentor who helped me to get onboarded. Throughout my time here, I have seen that CHEPS not only greatly cares about the work, but also the people! I’m looking forward to the rest of the summer when I can meet more CHEPSters and continue to apply my IOE knowledge to healthcare!


Ziqi Wang, IOE/HEPS Master’s Student

Ziqi Wang

Hi! My name is Ziqi and I am going into my second year of the Healthcare Engineering and Patient Safety (HEPS) concentration in the Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE) master’s program. I’ve been working at CHEPS since I started my master’s study here, almost one year now. During my time at CHEPS, I have worked on a simulation project with modeling and data analytics work. I have met so many amazing and talented people here. Being a member of the CHEPS family is the most meaningful and wonderful experience I have had at Michigan.

Before starting at CHEPS, I majored in Industrial Engineering in my undergrad and had some project experience in healthcare engineering, like how to optimize the medical treatment process to minimize the total waiting time of patients in the hospital. I felt like industrial engineering knowledge, especially systematic thinking, data analysis, and simulation could make a great difference in the healthcare system. More efficient processes and scheduling are saving patients’ lives. Therefore, I applied for the HEPS masters program without hesitation. On my first day at CHEPS, Amy and Liz showed me around the work area of CHEPS and gave me a brief introduction to the AD ICU project that I would join. I still remember how welcoming they were to the new students and how excited I was to join the CHEPS family.

The project that I have spent the most time on is the AD ICU project. For this project, we built a discrete event simulation model of the flow of aortic dissection patients arriving into ICU and then being moved into the downstream unit (Step-Down Unit, SD), specifically in the Cardiovascular Center (CVC) at Michigan Medicine. We also considered the patients whose health deteriorated to the point they needed to return to the ICU from SD. By collecting relevant metrics, like patient denial rate and utilization of ICU and SD, we evaluated the system performance with different input to understand how sources of variability in patients can influence the outcome. And the model can be utilized to develop policies for determining whether to accept patient transfer requests, improve the capacity management strategy of CVC, and when to postpone elective surgical procedures to improve available ICU capacity for potential future urgent care needs.

Ziqi with the AD ICU team at the 2019 CHEPS Symposium

When I first joined the AD ICU team, it was a little difficult for me to understand what was going on in the project since the project has made some progress before I joined and I was not familiar with some medical terminologies and how the healthcare system works in the United States. Luckily, I’ve met many helpful and nice teammates to describe the project to me very carefully and answer my questions.

It is exciting to see how engineering can help with hospital management, especially in the ICU, a unit that has a high cost, high quality requirements, and vital importance for critically ill patients. Especially with the current pandemic of COVID-19, it is important to utilize limited medical resources to save more patients’ lives. I am always excited to hear from Amy that what we did is helpful for the hospital.

This summer is quite different from what it used to be due to COVID-19. Although it is my first summer in CHEPS, I still know that I missed many outside activities and parties that used to happen in summer. We stay at home for work and meet virtually, which makes me miss the feeling of talking to someone in person. But CHEPS is always a community where I can feel a sense of belonging no matter what: we have had an amazing online talent show, we study a MOOC (online course) about the healthcare system together, and we have lunch & learns with alumni to learn more about the healthcare industry. We also have student presentations every week to learn from other project teams within CHEPS.

Although I am not sure where I will go after graduation, I hope to work in the hospital or a healthcare engineering company as a data analyst or consultant. I am so grateful that my experience in CHEPS has solidified my desire to work in the healthcare industry and use engineering knowledge to improve health system performance and patient care.