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Helping Organizations Analyze and Improve Their Operations

The Operations Research Practice Course

Department of Statistics and Operations Research

University of North Carolina




What is Operations Research?

Operations Research at UNC

The Operations Research Practice Course

1988-2012 Projects by Topic

Executive Summaries of Selected Projects

Setting Up a Project with the OR Practice Course










The purpose of this webpage is to acquaint North Carolinians with a no-cost service that has provided technical assistance to government, industry, and other organizations within North Carolina since 1988.  It links highly-qualified graduate students in the Department of Statistics and Operations Research at the University of North Carolina with these organizations on a one-semester project with the goal of analyzing a specific area of organizational or operational importance to that organization.


What is Operations Research?

Operations Research – also known as Management Science or Industrial Engineering — may not a familiar term, in spite of the fact that its principles underlie the running of almost every sufficiently large organization.  It is the science of optimal decision-making applied to organized (and sometimes unorganized) operating environments.  Quantitative models provides the basis for formulating optimal operating strategies and highly efficient computational software supply the means for converting the implications of these formulations into readily accessible decision tables for executive decision-making.  Scheduling, routing, and control problems all benefit from analysis via operations research and the design and management of telecommunication networks, manufacturing systems, and transportation networks are several of the greatest beneficiaries of these efforts.  Capital budgeting and supply chain management in business, network layout and switching in transportation and telecommunications, patient scheduling and tracking in health care management, and fisheries and water resource management also have benefited from operations research analysis.  Operations research has also been applied to solve problems in other basic areas such as data mining, medical and biological research, and computer design.


Operations Research at UNC

In 1968 the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill formed the Operations Research Curriculum in recognition of the expanding importance of the OR in decision-making for businesses and organizations throughout North Carolina.   The curriculum became a department in 1985, and then in 2003 merged with the Statistics Department to become the current Statistics and Operations Research Department.  The department offers graduate degree programs in Operations Research, Statistics, and several interdisciplinary tracks, as well as an undergraduate program in Mathematical Decision Sciences.  Graduates work in many diverse areas in industry and government, or serve on university faculties throughout the United States and abroad.  OR faculty in the department work in many interdisciplinary research areas, including telecommunications, health sciences, biology, and medicine.


The  Operations Research Practice Course

The OR Practice Course (STOR705) was instituted in 1988 to provide its students with a hands-on experience in solving real-world problems using the techniques of operations research.  Students are assigned, problems from clients in government, industry, and administrative and operating units within as well as outside the university who request help in addressing their organizational problems. Students formulate these problems in quantitative terms and identify appropriate methods for solution.  They also identify data needs, arrange to obtain and analyze the data, and develop the software required to generate solutions.  They consult with clients and their staffs on a regular basis for problem clarification and suitability of proposed solutions.  At the end of the project, the student provides the client with a written report and an oral presentation of the solution.


At regular course sessions during the semester, each student periodically describes her or his progress, with the course coordinator and other students assessing the project’s development and providing assistance in solving associated problems.  All department faculty are available the students as consultants with regard to problem formulation, methodology, and interpretation of results.  The emphasis throughout the course is on having the student assume responsibility for virtually all aspects of her or his project.


During the past 25 years, student consultants have solved many diverse problems for their clients in the areas of:


–  equipment replacement strategies                    – relieving congestion

–  facilities expansion                                              – transportation and routing

–  information organization and                             – scheduling

–  inventory management                                       – staffing

–  waste collection and recycling                           – service control


A list of 1988-2012 Projects by Topic is available to see what kinds of projects have been done in the past.  We also provide executive summaries of selected projects to give an outline the content of a typical OR project.



Executive Summaries of Selected Projects


  1. Modeling the Optimal Life Cycle of Faculty Personal Computers at UNC, Christopher Hawke
  2. Replenishment Process and Bin Reorganization for the Mixed Lite Area of the Distribution Center at Safelite Glass, Elizabeth Nielsen
  3. Shift Scheduling in the Durham Police Department, Joseph Sherman
  4. Optimal Operations of the OWASA Finished- and Raw-Water Pumping System, Amy Buege
  5. Risk-Based Inspections Scheduling at the North Carolina Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, Haifeng Lin


Setting Up an OR Practice Course Project


The OR Practice Course runs through spring semester each year, and the number of projects depends upon the number of students available each year.  The project descriptions need to be finalized and assigned to the student by the end of fall semester (early to mid-December).  We are interested in organizational, management or decision-making problems that are appropriate for solution by OR methods.  Each project host or client will be assigned a graduate student (free of charge) to work on her or his suggested project.  In consultation with the host and the operations research faculty, the student will develop a proposal of substance and scope appropriate to a one-semester time frame. The student will then devote 5 to 10 hours a week to solving the problem during the year. Clients have the responsibility to make themselves, or others on their staff in a position of authority, available to the student on a daily or weekly basis, and to provide the necessary information and data for them to conduct a meaningful analysis.