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Fall 2020 Newsletter

Centennial Artwork
Eileen Van Aken
Eileen Van Aken, Ph.D.

From the Department Head

Virginia Tech’s Industrial and Systems Engineering Department has been educating students, addressing complex societal challenges with research, and extending that knowledge across the world for 100 years. This academic year, we celebrate our centennial. This milestone is a time to celebrate our history and contemplate the future.

Throughout the academic year, we plan to reflect on our history, celebrate our accomplishments, and highlight a century of pushing scientific boundaries, building future leaders, and changing the face of industrial and systems engineering. We invite you to follow us on social media, as we celebrate our history in various ways throughout the academic year.

While the COVID-19 pandemic has had many disruptive effects, we are united by a shared sense of purpose. Our inclusive community of educators and learners are responding to this pandemic with grace, ingenuity, and resilience.

With a focus and commitment to providing hands-on learning opportunities to our students, we worked tirelessly over the summer months to implement a safe and socially distanced learning environment for the 400+ students enrolled in our Manufacturing Processes Laboratory this academic year. In our research facilities, we adapted to meet safety standards while keeping our programs moving forward.

I am particularly proud of the dedication and flexibility of our faculty and staff, who have moved beyond what is comfortable and familiar; pushed each other to think differently and innovatively; and lifted one another up to ensure we continue to fulfill our mission.

In addition to the pandemic, our nation has been rocked by racial injustice this year. Like many departments, we took time to reflect on the social justice movement, its immediate impact on our ISE community, and the opportunities that lie ahead. In response, the department drafted a statement about our commitment to diversity and inclusion, which outlines our ongoing commitment to furthering our efforts in this critical area. If you missed the statement, you can read it here.

While these are challenging times for everyone, I hope you will continue your support of our Department. The generous support of our alumni and friends allows our students to succeed and prepare themselves for the future task of rebuilding our economy and society.

Warm Hokie Regards,


Eileen Van Aken
Professor and Department Head
Class of 1988, 1991, and 1995

Student Highlights

Devils Backbone senior design team meeting in factory

Senior Design team wins first place in the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE) Outstanding Capstone Senior Design Competition

For their team project, they created a product wheel and a tool to automate the optimization of production schedules to help reduce the bottleneck occurring in the packaging phase of Devils Backbone’s production process. 

Student Awards and Recognition

  • Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers (IISE) James W. Barany Student Award for Excellence - Sarah Hack
  • Merl Baker Award - Best International Conference Student Paper and Graduate Student Scholarship from the American Society for Engineering Management (ASEM) - Kimberly Harry
  • Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences (INFORMS) Data Mining Best Paper Competition - Youngchun Li
  • Best Research Paper Award from the Occupational Ergonomics Technical Group of the Human Factors and Ergonomics Society - Jang-Ho Park and Hanjun Park

Meet the Class of 2021

Each week, we highlight a student who will graduate in May on our social media channels. Recently, we highlighted Jennylynn Johnson, a senior from Blacksburg, Virginia with a minor in green engineering. Read about what has impacted her undergraduate education and the defining moment that prepared her for her future career. Read more >

US News and World Reports Rankings

U.S. News & World Report rankings

Virginia Tech’s undergraduate program continues to be ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the top engineering schools for 2021! The College of Engineering is ranked #13, and among industrial/manufacturing/systems engineering programs, our program is ranked #4.

Faculty Highlights

James Kong

Zhenyu "James" Kong has received his profession’s highest honor, The Fellow Award from the Institute of Industrial and Systems Engineers

The award “recognizes outstanding leaders of the profession who have made significant, nationally recognized contributions to industrial engineering,” according to the institute, also known as IISE. Fellows hold the highest classification of the institute’s membership. Read more >

In memoriam: Walter Wierwille, professor emeritus in the College of Engineering

Wierwille started his career at Virginia Tech in 1970 as an associate professor in two disciplines, industrial engineering and electrical engineering. He became a full professor in 1973 and assumed the Paul T. Norton Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering in 1988. Read more >



Drones deliver time savings to customers, new revenue to businesses

Kimberly Ellis and her Ph.D. student, Melissa Tilashalaski, have been modeling various ways a simulated drone-delivery service might affect Christiansburg, Virginia, and two other cities in the United States. Read more >

Virginia Tech leads a team pursuing more immersive virtual reality

Divya Srinivasan will be working with Alex Leonessa from Mechanical Engineering, Eric Jing Du from the University of Florida, and HaptX on a new $1.5 million grant funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) to create "a full-body virtual reality rig that allows users to see the environment through a headset, achieve touch via the HaptX gloves, and both walk and interact by using an exoskeleton." 
Read more >

Early career faculty earn National Science Foundation CAREER awards

Xi Chen and Alejandro Salado were both awarded CAREER Awards from the National Science Foundation. The CAREER award, considered the NSF’s most prestigious honor, recognizes early-career academics poised to make significant research and educational advances in their fields. Read more >

Weijun Xie has been awarded the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) Optimization Society Prize for Young Researchers

This award recognizes young researchers for an outstanding paper in optimization that is published in, or submitted to, and accepted by, a refereed professional journal. Read more >

Alumni Highlights

Mehul and Hema Sanghani.

Alumnus Mehul Sanghani ‘98 donated $1.5M to create a new program that will provide healthy food to today’s Hokies in need

The initiative, called The Market of Virginia Tech, provides up to 75 students at a time with enough fresh ingredients for seven days of meals each week. Read more >

PEO Land Systems engineer receives Navy’s top Emergent Engineer award

Ali Olinger ‘13, a systems engineer with the Ground/Air Task Oriented Radar program at PEO Land Systems, was selected to receive the Department of the Navy’s Dr. Delores M. Etter Top Scientists and Engineerings of the Year Award. Read more >

Two-time Hokie alumnus, Thomas A. Dingus ('85, '87), inducted into the Academy of Engineering Excellence at Virginia Tech

Dingus has held faculty, research, and administrative roles at the University of Idaho and Virginia Tech, including his position as the inaugural director of the latter’s Institute of Critical Technology and Applied Science, in addition to roles in industry and government. Read more >

Alumna Rawan Abukhaled '18, digital transformation consultant for GE Digital, a pioneer in male-dominated engineering industry in Saudi Arabia

“I’m probably one of the first women to join the industry in the Kingdom. I want to be the best representation of a female Saudi engineer in this field, so everyone around me thinks, ‘Hey, we need to hire more women.’ I’m constantly trying to get that idea through." Read more >

Call for Nominations

Academy of Distinguished Alumni

We are now accepting nominations for the Grado Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering Academy of Distinguished Alumni. Its fundamental purpose is to provide a formal means of recognition to alumni of the department who have demonstrated significant achievement in their career.

Please consider nominating yourself or another industrial and systems engineering alumni whose work, professional activities, and/or service to Virginia Tech deserves recognition. Read more>

Emerging Leaders Award

We are now accepting nominations for the Emerging Leaders Award. The award recognizes the outstanding professional achievement and leadership of Virginia Tech Industrial and Systems Engineering alumni who are within 15 years of completing their first Virginia Tech undergraduate or graduate degree in industrial and systems engineering. Please consider nominating yourself or another industrial and systems engineering alumni. Read more>

Support the Student Emergency Fund

The COVID-19 pandemic has caused many of our students to lose employment on-campus and within the Blacksburg community. Through generous donations provided by many caring Hokies, the Dean of Students Office has been entrusted to manage a fund for students who find themselves in immediate financial need, due to no fault of their own. If you would like to help students during this extraordinary time, the Student Emergency Fund is a powerful way to make a difference. Give today