Engineering graduate student awarded NIST fellowship

Carolyn Cushwa
October 24, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Penn State doctoral student Michael Hoffman has been awarded a Graduate Student Measurement Science and Engineering (GMSE) Fellowship through the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Hoffman, a native of West Chester, Pennsylvania, is currently enrolled in the industrial engineering (IE) graduate program. He began his research fellowship with NIST in Gaithersburg, Maryland, this past summer.

“The idea is that I will work with NIST and complete this fellowship to conduct research that they are interested in,” Hoffman said. “So I can work with NIST and do research there, and then when I come back to Penn State I can continue to do similar research. My work with NIST and my work at Penn State go hand in hand.”

Hoffman graduated from Penn State with a bachelor’s degree in IE in December 2015. After discovering a passion for research during his undergraduate career, he began the doctoral program the following semester and has since been pursuing his doctoral degree.

For his fellowship, Hoffman’s research focuses on the optimization of certain maintenance systems and their policies.

“Right now I’m looking at manufacturing systems and the different maintenance systems with them. There are different ways that you can fix the machines in a system, different policies that you can employ, so I’m looking at comparing these different maintenance policies and trying to figure out which policy is best for a given system, and then optimizing the scheduling of these maintenance activities,” Hoffman said.

According the NIST website, the GMSE fellowship program provides doctoral-level graduate students with opportunities and financial assistance to obtain laboratory experience within the NIST laboratories in the science, technology, engineering and mathematics disciplines related to NIST measurement science and engineering research. The program is administered through a grant with the National Physical Science Consortium.

Hoffman is working under Michael Brundage, an industrial engineer in the Systems Integration Division with which Hoffman is completing his fellowship at NIST. Brundage works as Hoffman’s supervisor in developing what Brundage referred to as an “intelligent maintenance knowledge base.”

“Michael started at the beginning of the summer, and he’s hit the ground running since then,” Brundage said. “Like most graduate students, he didn’t have as much experience in the manufacturing field. He took on a lot of learning about what we were doing and learned a lot over the summer by reading papers and seeing the projects that were going on at NIST in general.”

Brundage explained that Hoffman is in the process of building a high-fidelity simulation model, which will allow NIST to test various solutions to help manufacturers maintain throughput and increase profit. For Hoffman, this real-world application to his research is one of the best things about doing his fellowship through NIST.

“A big focus at NIST is to make sure that the work that is done is applicable in the real world and that it can benefit companies. They have a lot of companies that they work alongside to apply the research that they are doing,” he said.

Meanwhile at Penn State, Hoffman is completing his research alongside Allen E. Pearce and Allen M. Pearce Professor Soundar Kumara. Working in Kumara’s laboratory for intelligent systems and analytics, Hoffman will continue to perform his research while taking classes at Penn State.

After working with Hoffman during his time as an undergraduate, Kumara was familiar with his qualifications and recommended him for the fellowship with NIST.

“The coordinator for the fellowship at NIST asked him [Kumara] if he had anyone that he would recommend. They [the coordinator and Kumara] had worked together in the past, so he was nice enough to refer me for the fellowship,” Hoffman said.

It’s not a surprise that Kumara would choose to suggest Hoffman for the fellowship. As an undergraduate, Hoffman said that he spent a lot of time working in Kumara’s lab. He even attributes part of his decision to continue his education at Penn State to his time spent doing research with Kumara.

“I was a little unsure about if I wanted to pursue a Ph.D. at first or not, but I figured I had good resources from working with Dr. Kumara as an undergraduate, so having worked with him before and knowing that I would have the chance to work with him in graduate school kind of encouraged me to go for it,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman will continue his fellowship with NIST for the remainder of his time at Penn State. He plans to graduate in the fall of 2019, at which time he says he hopes to continue doing research in any way he can.

“The main reason I enjoy research so much is that you’re doing something that no one else has done before, and figuring out something new for the first time. It’s definitely challenging to be out there and learn these things on your own, and try to figure out things out that no one’s ever done before. So it’s challenging and it’s exciting and definitely frustrating at times, too, but I enjoy it,” Hoffman said. “The type of work that I do now is definitely something that I would be interested in doing after I graduate.”

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Last Updated December 12, 2017