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Industrial and Manufacturing Systems Engineering

Featured Story | IMSE's Global Campus

Student completes operations research graduate degree during military assignment with NOAA Corps

Heather Moe
Heather Moe

Heather Moe was aboard a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) ship somewhere off the West Coast when she discovered the field of operations research.

At the time, Moe was serving in the NOAA Corps, a uniformed service branch that provides operational support for NOAA. They had just left port on a research cruise. Sometime between midnight and four o’clock in the morning when she was trying to stay awake between bridge watch shifts, Moe began researching options for her next assignment.

She stumbled upon operations research, and over the next several weeks, learned more about the field and started thinking about it as she went about her duties.

“It wasn’t long before I started to see how it could be applied to everything from ship scheduling to officer assignments, ship supply restocking, and even how the research we were conducting could be done more efficiently to get more data from dwindling budgets,” Moe said.

In order to complete a master’s degree while still in the NOAA Corps, Moe knew she would need to find an online program — and that’s what led her to Kansas State University.

“K-State offered the best set of classes for my interests and was willing to work with my very non-traditional background for an OR master’s program,” Moe said.

Moe came from a military family, and enlisted soon after earning an undergraduate degree in biology from Rochester Institute of Technology. Her assignment with NOAA continued through all but her last semester of master’s classes at K-State, when she began working as an intern at ESRI, a geographic information systems software company.

Although the online format presented some challenges, especially when coordinating group projects, Moe said the classes fit her independent learning style well. Her assignments in the NOAA Corps sometimes required her to go to sea for weeks at a time, and the online classes allowed her the flexibility to work around her schedule.

“A huge advantage I saw to the online program was that I knew everyone in the class really wanted to be there and would work hard to do their part,” Moe said.

The lack of inherent networking opportunities was a disadvantage for Moe, especially as she was navigating a career change from biology and environmental science to engineering, but she took the initiative by reaching out to the IMSE faculty and joining the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS).

During her last semester, she was nominated by the IMSE department head to attend a professional colloquium for graduate students at the INFORMS Analytics Conference.

Today, Moe puts her operations research degree to use at ESRI, where she takes part in developing software to help optimize geographic business decisions such as location allocation and multiple vehicle routing.

Someday she hopes to merge her interests in the natural sciences and operations research.

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