Written by Nicholas Wommack, Marketing, Poole College of Management

The Wilson College of Textiles is proud to introduce one of its newest assistant professors: Dr. Mengmeng Zhu. From Nanjing University of Technology, China; to Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey; to NC State; Zhu wields a great wealth of knowledge in industrial engineering and statistics. Last November, the assistant professor entered the Department of Textile Engineering, Chemistry and Science and since then has been making strides towards research and sharing her findings among students, faculty and the community.

Zhu has been a recipient of several select scholarships and awards during her pursuit of further knowledge and continues to make an impact in academia today. We reached out to her about her desire to better serve the public through improvement in process efficiency and a myriad of areas vital towards our daily lives. To better create a visual of who the newest addition is, here are some of her answers to our interview questions.

From working in a corporation that creates technological products to working as an operations analyst, you certainly have worked in a myriad of impressive and diverse positions. How did you come to the decision that you wanted to become an assistant professor in the Wilson College of Textiles?
In 2008, after I received my  degree in Industrial Engineering from Nanjing University of Technology in Nanjing, China,  I was not sure if I wanted to continue pursuing a higher degree and eventually work in academia. That was the reason I decided to work as an industrial engineer in the industry (HannStar Display Corporation) first. HannStar is a company focused on the research and production of monitors, notebook displays and televisions. The job responsibilities for me as an industrial engineer were production line efficiency improvement, inventory improvement, estimation and optimization of production capacity and safety stock. But I found that many problems arose from the daily work that I could not solve, nor could my supervisor. I needed to have a strong understanding of mathematics to solve optimization problems involving multiple components. Thus, I decided to pursue my master’s degree in Industrial and Systems Engineering at Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

The same process was repeated. I was an operations analyst intern at Musical Fulfillment (American Musical Supply) in New Jersey in Summer 2013 before I was about to finish my master’s in Industrial and Systems Engineering at Rutgers University. During the internship, I found many industrial problems, such as optimization of inventory, process, layout and management can be categorized as mathematical problems in Industrial and Systems Engineering; and these are the areas that attract and bring me on the path of my Ph.D. studies. From there, I decided to pursue my Ph.D. in Industrial and Systems Engineering at Rutgers University in Fall 2013 and wanted to work in academia after I received my Ph.D. degree.

Even in Nanjing, China, your love for industrial engineering and statistics has remained consistent. Why did you decide to study the topic and what interests you most about it?
I consider myself as a reliability-statistics researcher. My research interests lie in computational data analytics, mathematical models and methods development in software reliability, system reliability engineering, degradation prediction of complex engineering system with the applications in software development, system health monitoring and control, energy, healthcare and transportation infrastructure. The parts that interest me the most in my research are:

  1. I can build up mathematical models and develop new methods in software reliability, system reliability, system degradation, system maintenance across various fields, including engineering, science, economics and help them to build a more reliable system and better predict the system reliability and prevent system failure.
  2. I can work with researchers from different disciplines.

Is there a certain process in the textiles industry you hope to create or streamline here at NC State?
Yes; during my time here at NC State, I hope to implement:

  1. Process efficiency improvement
  2. Reliability: modeling, prediction and optimization in terms of design, manufacturing process, machinery, product and service in the textiles industry
  3. Computational data analytics in the textiles industry

What advice do you have for potential students that hope to follow in your footsteps?
Go with your interest and never stop trying. You will find your way.

With your passion and enthusiasm for industrial and systems engineering, do you plan to continue in this field in the future? Why or why not?
Yes, I plan to continue working on my current research areas as mentioned earlier. I will also pursue method development in computational data analytics. My reasons are the following:

  1. As technology continues to advance in our daily safety, security, mobility and economic welfare, we require a reliable product / system to deliver information and services to customers.
  2. Everything generates data. How we can extract the critical information and better serve the public is challenging yet interesting.

How does it feel to know that eight of your academic papers have been published in high-impact journals? Do you plan to continue sharing your knowledge with the academic communities?
I am glad that I can contribute and share my research with society and will continue to do so through teaching classes, industrial collaborations, conferences and so on.

I see that you are interested in developing new courses at the graduate level here at NC State. Would you be willing to give a few spoilers of what is to come?
The new course that I plan to develop at the graduate level is system reliability engineering. It aims to introduce reliability engineering to the students in engineering, textiles and science. System reliability engineering covers a variety of topics including failure distributions, design for reliability, reliability testing, physical reliability models, data collection and analysis for building reliability model, method of measuring reliability of complex systems and statistical analysis.

What is your ultimate goal in the world of supply chain?
I prefer to describe it as the next step. As an assistant professor at NC State, I will continue to focus on research and teaching. The goal is to apply my research into various industries to help them build more reliable and more secure systems. Also, I would like the students from my classes have the knowledge to understand forthcoming problems and, more importantly, determine and discover a wide range of possibilities to solve the problems.