Intrigued by her experience in a math class, Megan Menth '14 thought it would be fun to apply what she was learning to a real-life problem.
Menth, Hutchinson, Minn., used a mathematical discipline known as operations research to drastically cut the amount of time used to schedule student managers working in Dining Services.
By utilizing a computer model designed by Menth, Dining Services supervisors can now schedule 35 student managers into some 80 shifts in mere minutes, rather than several hours of laborious work by hand.
“Megan took an abstract idea from class and used it to solve a specific problem,” says Dr. Daniel Biebighauser, associate professor of math. “She saw a need where mathematics could provide a useful solution.”
Operations research uses mathematical modeling and statistical analysis to help make the best possible solutions to complex decision-making problems. It is often used to determine maximum performance and yield, or minimum loss and risk.
Last year, Menth and two other students helped Biebighauser solve a routing problem for a landscaping company in Houston. The company employs two crews of workers that serve 160 clients.
It asked for help to design a more efficient system to route its crews by neighborhoods in order to cut costs and travel time. The Concordia team developed a schedule that saved the crews 60 hours per week.
Fresh from that experience, Menth worked with Biebighauser to design a computer program to help Dining Services assemble schedules for student workers.
“It developed into a giant list of equations, with over a thousand constraints and more than 500 variables of people, class schedules and shifts,” says Menth.
The problem proved too big for computers on campus to solve, so Menth turned to the Internet and discovered that a super computer at Arizona State University was available.
“After many days of waiting for a solution here, we got our answer back in minutes from the super computer,” says Menth, who is majoring in mathematics and art. “We were getting desperate because we were scheduled to make our presentation to DS the next day.”
Once the appropriate data is entered, the computer program Menth designed can now do in 20 minutes what took DS managers more than six hours to do by hand.
“DS managers can easily update their scheduling every semester as students and class schedules change,” says Biebighauser.