Associate Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering
What year did you start at NIU?
What is your hometown and where do you live now?
Where did you attend college and what degrees have you earned?
I have a B.S. in Industrial Engineering and Management Science and B.S. in Applied Mathematics from Northwestern University. I earned my M.S. in Operations Research from University of Southern California and I have a Ph.D. in Industrial and Systems Engineering from University of Southern California.
Were you a first-generation college student?
My parents came from Vietnam. My father has a degree that he earned in Vietnam, but I am a first-generation American in my family, and the first to earn a degree in the U.S.
Were you ever undecided, and/or did you change majors?
I started out undecided; I was thinking biomedical engineering, but I really liked applied math and then added industrial engineering. I decided I’m more of a hands-on learner. I became interested in health care and transportation when a professor encouraged me to look at the field because my interest in mathematics would fit well.
What advice would you give to students either just starting their college journey or currently attending NIU?
Take your time to decide what you want to do. It’s okay if you don’t know right away. Talk to professors, attend clubs and organizations. Try as many things as you can so you don’t wonder if you missed out on something you might like. If you’re curious about something, explore it! My father impressed this upon me while I was growing up, and now I’m imparting it on my students.
What do you love about working at NIU?
NIU and CEET have a great connection with our community and industry. This is a very collaborative environment. We have many company-sponsored projects where you can get involved and feel like you are making a real impact. The projects are inter-disciplinary, and we all work together.
And the students here are another reason I love my job here. I am humbled by our students. They ask the best questions, like, “Why is this important and how will I use it?” and “What can I do with this degree?”. They ask these questions because they are eager to put their education to use in a practical and meaningful way. Many alumni come back and update me on what they’ve been doing and I’m just amazed. In the end, it’s all about the students.
Tell us about a research or engaged learning project you’ve led.
One of the first projects I led was with a non-profit health care clinic that primarily served lower income patients. They had really long wait times at the clinic. The average wait time was 90 minutes; some patients would wait 2 or more hours to be seen. They were seeing a lot of no-shows and 80% of the appointments were made the same day. We rebuilt their scheduling model and improved the registration process that helped reduce the wait time to less than one hour and allowed them to increase their capacity so now they can see more patients in one day. A simple solution can make a huge difference. Often organizations just don’t have time to focus on a problem. I love how our students can come in with fresh eyes and an eagerness to make things better.
What do you hope students will take away from your class?
I hope that they learn to be adaptable. Things are always changing in engineering. You need to be able to flexile because each situation is different. I hope what they take away is to be open to learn new things; I hope they are learning to learn.
What’s your favorite campus event?
Graduation. I meet so many students who think they can’t succeed. I like to watch them grow and then I like to see them at graduation. That’s the point at which they realize they did it. It’s bittersweet though, because I know I will miss them. I try to go to all the graduations — I’ve only missed one!
Christine Nguyen is an associate professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering in the College of Engineering and Engineering Technology