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Hard work pays off with great job offer

A woman stands next to the entrance to the industrial engineering department office.

Na Deng landed a job with American Airlines right after successfully defending her doctoral thesis in February.

Na Deng chose to pursue her doctorate in industrial engineering at the University of Missouri because of the MU College of Engineering’s positive rankings and because she liked the looks of its home city. Both hunches paid off for her.

“Columbia is a small but good town. It’s a great place to study and live,” she said of her home for the past five years.

Deng’s advisor at MU was Wooseung Jang, a professor in engineering’s Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering (IMSE). His research program exposed her to models in international supply chain management. Her resulting work with productive consolidation models earned her a plum job in operations research management with American Airlines immediately after successfully defending her thesis in February 2013.

Deng’s initial research was conducted for one of her department’s Center for Excellence in Logistics and Distribution (CELDi) membership companies, Leggett & Platt.

CELDi is an applied research and education consortium of nine major research universities and the National Science Foundation (NSF). Organizations and companies like Leggett & Platt pay an annual membership fee for a partner university to discover logistics and distribution solutions specifically for their company.

“Leggett and Platt had high logistics costs because of their many branches around the country and point-to-point delivery strategy with high inventory and transportation costs,” Deng said.

The proactive consolidation model she developed looked at ways to optimize both the amount packed in shipping containers from Chinese suppliers and the company’s multi-stop distribution model.

Deng’s work earned her a Best Student Poster award at the 2011 CELDi annual conference. She also was named IMSE’s top doctoral student award in 2012.

“I just extended my basic work to more complicated models,” she said of her dissertation. “It is a big problem in two parts — transportation and distribution — with a large amount of variables and constraints. I looked at a series of models with a series of variables and strengths and combined many of them into different models using heuristic algorithms.

“I think this topic is interesting, hot and popular,” Deng said, adding that the insights into optimization gained from her work at MU is what made her attractive to American Airlines. “The basic knowledge is the same, it will just be a different topic.”

Deng’s new position takes her to Dallas where she will be a member of the company’s revenue management group.

“I am very happy and very excited to get this good job,” Deng said.  “I want to thank my advisor, Dr. Jang. He helped me a lot during my five years here. Without his help and the help and suggestions of the other faculty members in my department, I couldn’t have accomplished so much. It’s a small department, but the relationship between the students and the professors is very good.”