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March 11, 2019

Familiar face in a fresh place

Written By: Tom Ziemer

Amanda Smith

Three-time alumna Amanda Smith (BS ’13, MS ’16, PhD ’18) has enjoyed her time in the University of Wisconsin-Madison Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering so much, she’s decided to stick around.

Smith started as the department’s associate chair for undergraduate affairs in January 2019, shortly after she finished up her PhD under ISyE Associate Professor James Luedtke. In the newly created position, Smith will teach, develop and design courses, meet with students, and help lead the department’s upcoming undergraduate curriculum review.

It’s an optimal fit for someone who enjoys working within the full breadth of ISyE—compared to having to choose one specific area as a graduate student.

“I wanted to do everything,” she says.

Smith eventually settled on optimization, applying mixed-integer programming to questions in open-pit mining and metabolic engineering.

“I love taking a really hard problem that people have looked at in a variety of different ways,” she says, “and being able to take new tools and throw stuff at it, basically, until something finally sticks. That satisfaction that you get from finally solving the hard problem and seeing your results work—I think that’s probably the best part.”

During her graduate studies, Smith served as graduate coordinator for teaching assistant training in the College of Engineering. She also taught a few courses and worked as a teaching assistant. She says teaching was the most fulfilling and enjoyable part of graduate school.

“When I’m teaching, I really feel like that’s when I’m making a difference in the world,” she says. “I love to get undergraduates excited about industrial engineering—showing them this new world that they either didn’t know about or they didn’t understand fully.”

Smith, who grew up just southwest of Madison in Fitchburg, spent a year working for the federal government in Washington, D.C., after earning her bachelor’s degree. She’s thrilled to stay in Madison after graduation this time.

“To be able to stay here long term, it makes me really happy,” she says. “It’s a dream come true, honestly.”