Spotlight: Operations Research & Engineering

Cornell Engineering student EricaErica is a Cornell Engineering student from Marlboro, NJ. She is majoring in Operations Research and Engineering (OR&E) and minoring in Business. She is planning on pursuing a career in financial services. Her extracurricular involvement includes serving as a Co-Director of Student Services for the Society of Women Engineers, working part-time at the campus fitness centers, and being an engineering peer advisor. She also is involved in the Cornell Fashion Collective and a sorority. Her favorite Cornell Dairy Bar ice cream flavor is Mango Sorbet.

Operations Research and Engineering is one of the most unique and most popular majors at Cornell, consisting of over 200 undergraduates. Operations research, commonly abbreviated as OR, is a newer field and was developed in response to the rapid modernization of business by technology. Even today, there exists a need to understand the growing intersection of economics, information science, and finance. OR is formally defined as the application of, “mathematical and modeling skills to the efficient design, analysis, operation and control of complex systems”, but more simply put, it is the application of mathematics and computer science to business. Undergraduate students take classes in optimization, engineering stochastic processes, and financial engineering.

Cornell University is a leader in operations research. Many of our professors and faculty members have been and continue to be pioneers in this field. For example, my advisor, Robert Bland, developed an important rule that is commonly used in the Simplex method, an algorithm that students still learn about in Optimization. The breadth and versatility of the major give students a strong foundation off which to build their careers. The undergraduate academic program is quite flexible and allows students to customize their schedules by choosing electives and affiliating with minor courses of study that align with their interests. I have chosen to minor in Business, but several of my friends are pursuing Information Science and Education minors. In OR&E, there is a heavy emphasis on teamwork, which I appreciate. Working with my peers on homework assignments, lab projects, or group presentations has helped me develop my communication and interpersonal skills – both of which will serve me well in the workforce, where collaboration is important.

Similarly, students can apply knowledge and skills they learn in class to a wide array of extracurricular activities. Several OR&E majors work on the business subteams for engineering project teams, are involved in Spark Industrial and Product Design, and are members of INFORMS, the operations research honors society. I personally get to apply principles of optimization as part of my work with the Cornell Fashion Collective when I help with ticket sales and managing general logistics of the annual fashion show.

Choosing to be an OR&E major has been a great decision – I’ve been afforded several academic and professional opportunities while getting to study material that interests me. The practical applications of statistics and programming are evident in everyday life, whether it involves modeling taxi pick-ups, deciding how much inventory a store should hold to maximize profit, or optimizing the efficiency of a blood gas analyzer at a hospital (I have worked on class assignments dealing with these very problems!). Learning about operations research continues to help prepare me to make a difference in world, whether it be through the fields of data science, consulting, or finance.

—Erica, operations research & engineering