Tuesday, May 6, 2014

One student's senior design experience

As of one hour ago, I finished giving my final presentation to the judges during Demo Day. For those of you who don’t know what that is, here’s a quick rundown: seniors at Penn have a final graduation requirement know as senior design. It varies a bit from department to department but basically it’s a final project to showcase what you learned in your four years here at Penn. In my department (ESE) we have a year to do any project we want. So we start by defining a project and finding advisors and then the rest of the year is actually spent completing it. Towards the end of the year we get the chance to show our work to people in what is called Demo Day. We set up our poster and product in a lab, and people have the chance to come in and talk to us or ask questions. We also have to present to a panel of judges. So, over the course of two hours we gave our presentation four or five times to a total of nine judges. 

To some, that may sound intimidating, but I think for most of us, it’s an exciting time to show off what we have done, and once you get the hang of it, the presentations are really simple. I was actually glad of the opportunity to present because we finally get to share our work with someone other than our advisors or our friends. And after working on something for an entire year, it’s nice to get to talk about it. So, I guess I’ll take this opportunity to talk about my project one more time.
My teammates and I worked with the process improvement team at CHOP (Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia) to create a model that helps predict length of stay for low acuity patients (those with less severe conditions). The current length of stay for this patients is very long and we wanted to help the hospital find specific times when they could improve the most. We were given a year and a half worth of data to sort through and organize, and we used this to create probability distributions that would be the driving force behind our model. We then created a model, using MATLAB, which could predict patient length of stay or give a predicted range for length of stay for any time of day on any given day of the year. And our predicted range contained the actual historical average length of stay in 99% of the cases (we were at 95% only yesterday, but were able to make some last minute improvements). Now CHOP can use our tool to compare the effects of interventions across various time blocks and see where these interventions can make the most impact. Hopefully, this will go a long way in helping them reduce their length of stay. It really has been nice to work with a stakeholder of our project, and to create a product that might actually be useful to someone.
I’ll be going back to Demo Day in half an hour or so when I finish work, and I look forward to speaking with more people about my project and then finishing the day by celebrating our accomplishments with other ESE seniors. There were times during the year when it almost looked like we wouldn’t get things done, but somehow we pulled through, and now not a lot more stands between me and graduation. It’s been a great four years here at Penn, and this has been a great way to finish things off. 

Patricia is a senior in Systems Engineering.  Questions for Patricia?  email her at awe@seas.upenn.edu

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