February 23, 2012 | 1:23 p.m.
By Alennah Westlund '14
Operations Research students collect data at Feed My Starving Children.
Thirty students in Associate Professor of Mathematics Patrice Conrath’s Operations Research course recently conducted a simulation study at Feed My Starving Children (FMSC), a nonprofit Christian organization that hand-packs meals specially formulated for malnourished children, shipping the meals to nearly 70 countries around the world. The study’s findings helped FMSC determine that they could increase production by two million meal packs per year at their Coon Rapids, Minn., site simply by adding an additional funnel at each food station. Even if the new plan is implemented on a smaller scale, more meals could be produced and more children served by the organization.
“Students went to FMSC and collected data during two packing events,” explains Conrath, “then went back to Bethel to create a computer simulation model of the process. They reviewed several possible layouts for the packing process and found that adding an additional funnel to make a ‘two-funnel system’ provided the fastest layout. Their findings were presented to FMSC officials in late 2011. Recognizing that a faster system would require additional food costs, the students also presented a check covering these costs for 30 packers, representing the size of their class.”
The students were grateful for the opportunity to use their math and computer science skills for a worthwhile organization, and FMSC was grateful for their input. “We so appreciated their time,” says Holly Donato, FMSC national marketing director, “and their thoughtful and generous donation! It means a lot, especially coming from college students who don’t have much extra money on hand.”
Over the years, Operations Research students have worked on a number of real-world projects that relate to Bethel’s operations, such as the dish return area of the Dining Center, check-in lines during Welcome Week, and customer service lines at Royal Grounds. Students have also worked on research for off-campus sites, including models for the local McDonald’s drive-through and a network of airstrips in Africa. This year’s Feed My Starving Children project “met the technical requirements,” says Conrath, “but also inspired students as they came to understand the life-changing impact of their work.”