Researcher Combines Work with Her Passion

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There’s nothing better than finding a way to combine work with a personal passion — and Pinar Keskinocak has managed to make this happen.      

“My passion for having real impact in practice through my research has continued since my graduate school days and has shifted from focusing on the for-profit sector toward the health and humanitarian sectors,” said the Joseph C. Mello Professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE). “The main motivation for this shift was that I wanted to have more of a direct — or positive — impact on people’s lives.”

While at Georgia Tech, Keskinocak met two other professors, Ozlem Ergun and Julie Swann, who shared this passion for helping others. The three established the Center for Health and Humanitarian Logistics in 2007.  In a short time, the center has become a key global player in helping to ensure that disaster relief supplies — food, clean water, and medicine — arrive as quickly and efficiently as possible to those in need.

Through her work as co-director of the center, Keskinocak has collaborated with a number of governmental and nongovernmental organizations, including the American Red Cross, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, CARE and Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta

“I consider the establishment of this center and its activities to be the most enjoyable and rewarding of my professional activities,” Keskinocak added.

Recently, The Whistle had an opportunity to learn more about Keskinocak and her time at Tech.

How did you get to your current position?
When I completed my PhD, I worked at IBM’s T.J. Watson Research Center in the area of supply chain and revenue management for two years. I joined the ISyE faculty in 1999.

Tell us a little bit about your research.      
Recently, my research focus has been in the health and humanitarian sectors. For example, in a joint project with CARE, we looked at pre-positioning emergency supplies with the goal of shortening response times after a disaster.

What do you do to make learning more engaging for students?   
I try to use real-world examples. One example of this is a case study that I co-authored that focuses on the distribution of limited resources for indoor residual spraying for malaria prevention. We developed an Excel-based classroom game that works with the case study to provide students with a comprehensive modeling exercise, enabling them to apply various methods learned in ISyE classes.

What piece of technology could you not live without as an instructor?
I use email, PowerPoint and have a web page, but I don’t rely too much on technology in the classroom. I still like to use an old-fashioned board coupled with PowerPoint and printed exercises that I distribute.

Best place to grab lunch?
I like to go to Ferst Place with colleagues or students, since it always has something I can eat — I’m a pescaterian, so I eat seafood but no other meat— and it’s an easy walk from my office.

Name a few books you’ve read recently.
“Three Cups of Tea” by Greg Mortenson, “Little Bee” and “Incendiary” by Chris Cleave and “Pearl of China” by Anchee Min, to name a few. Also, I love to read children’s books recommended by my 9 year old so that he and I can talk about them. Most recently, we read the Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer and the Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart.

If you weren’t in your current line of work, what would you be doing?
Realistically, I’d work for a nonprofit organization or be an executive in a company. In a surreal scenario, I would be a dancer.



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