International student reaps the benefits of dual master degree program

Emily Chambers
March 21, 2016

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Jenny McLean arrived on the Penn State campus in August 2015, it felt like a dream. It was her first time in the United States and the beginning of a new chapter in her life. 

“I remember thinking how surreal it was, to actually be here…and it was really hot,” McLean chuckled.

McLean made the journey from Hamilton, New Zealand to the small town of State College, Pennsylvania to pursue dual master of science degrees in industrial engineering and operations research. Though her arrival may seem similar to many of Penn State’s international students, McLean’s experience at the University has been unique.

McLean is not like other master’s students at Penn State. She sits in the same classes and is working with an adviser on research, much like other graduate students, but she has more on her plate than most other students. In August 2016, McLean will graduate with two advanced degrees after only one year at Penn State.

She is part of the first graduating class of the one-year master of science degree program offered by the Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering. The shortened master of science programs were developed by the College of Engineering to give students and adult learners a chance to further their education quickly so they can enter, or return to, industry faster.

The one-year nature of the program is what drew McLean to Penn State. After graduating from the University of Auckland, New Zealand with a bachelor of engineering degree in engineering science with a focus on operations research, McLean began her career with Opus International Consultants in New Zealand. Her focus was on roadways: how they deteriorate, when to fix them and how much money to budget to ensure efficient maintenance. After a year and a half at Opus, she realized she wanted to further her education.

“I was originally interested in a thesis program, as my main goal was to do research,” she said. “However, after hearing about the one-year program, I realized I could still do some research, but I could finish my degree in a [more] timely manner.”

When beginning her search for programs, McLean knew she would be applying to schools in the United States because of the lack of master of science programs in her particular area of interest in New Zealand. She also was interested in getting work experience in the United States after graduating and knew it would be easier to do so if she got her degree in the states.

The fact that her boyfriend is a doctoral student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology was an added bonus.

McLean chose Penn State because of the reputation of its industrial engineering programs. After discovering the one-year master of science option, she was sold. It would allow her to get back to work in industry quickly, with the added bonus of saving money.

“I am an efficient person. The program allows me to gain more research experience and more advanced skills in a [productive] use of [my] time,” McLean said.

That efficiency however, comes with a cost: having to squeeze two years’ worth of work into only one. McLean admits it is challenging at times, focusing on class work and finishing her research for her final research paper by the end of August. Despite this, she is in good spirits. She enjoys the peace of the State College area and says it helps her relax. In the little free time she has, McLean likes to go for runs, walks, hikes and visits to Boston to see her boyfriend. She also enjoys the numerous activities that Penn State offers.

She is part of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS), a society for professionals in the fields of operations research, management science and analytics. McLean was excited when she learned of the Penn State INFORMS chapter. Though the society is known in New Zealand, there was no active chapter at her undergraduate university.

The Penn State INFORMS chapter holds workshops and presentations on operations research and how it is applied. She said she enjoys the group because it allows her to keep up with new research in her field and gives her the chance to network with people who have similar interests as her.

“I really like math and I love spreading that love. It is exciting to meet people who love it too,” McLean said.

Though she enjoys socializing with people who have similar interests, McLean realizes the importance of meeting people whose interests lie elsewhere. She is a member of Foundations in Global Engagement (FiGE), a program run through Penn State as a way for new international students to connect with each other.

FiGE gives participants the chance to meet people from different cultures and develop multinational relationships. McLean enjoys the group because it gives her a chance to increase her global awareness, meet people from different majors and expand her thought process. They also offer field trips to major cities in the United States such as New York and Washington, both of which she is excited to visit.

Of course, being enrolled in a one-year master of scinec program, McLean isn’t all play and no work. In combination with her four courses this semester, she has been working on her final research paper with her adviser, Hui Yang, Harold and Inge Career Associate Professor of Industrial Engineering.

McLean is researching the “traveling salesman problem” which is focused on finding the quickest route between cities. McLean’s research is using State College for the context of a case study, in which she is researching how to make delivery routes more efficient for deliveries to residents and small businesses through companies such as FedEx or UPS. 

“There’s such a variety of different methods to solve this problem,” McLean said. “It’s interesting to compare their advantages, and to see how well they may work for a given application.

After graduating in August, McLean plans to remain in the United States and gain work experience in analytics. She has enjoyed her visits to Boston and will be moving there to be with her boyfriend as he finishes his degree program. She looks forward to a time when she is done with research papers and exams and can get back to work in the field she loves, with two advanced degrees from Penn State in hand.

(Media Contacts)

Last Updated March 21, 2016