When Dr. Omar Ashour graduated from high school, he was accepted into both medical and engineering schools. But which to choose?
Ashour’s grandmother counseled him to pick medicine. “I remember her saying that it was much better to save lives than to sell detergent, which is what her perception of industrial engineering was.”
Instead, Ashour chose engineering—“I was always more interested in solving problems and looking at the big picture of systems than in memorizing medical terms,” he said. Yet the assistant professor of industrial engineering at Penn State Behrend still saves lives, by researching ways to improve health care systems. In these complex structures, poor performance leads at best to patient dissatisfaction and at worst to inflated costs, medical errors, or death.
The potential benefit to society of Ashour’s work was one of the factors that led to his receiving the college’s first professorship to support young faculty members, the William and Wendy Korb Early Career Professorship in Industrial Engineering. Funded with a $1 million gift from William B. Korb ’62 and his wife, Wendy ’63, the professorship is designed to attract and support talented industrial engineering faculty members at the start of their academic careers. The Korbs created three rotating professorships that also support faculty members within the Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering at Penn State’s University Park campus.
The Korb Early Career Professorship provides young faculty members with seed money for innovative research projects and flexible funding to encourage new approaches to teaching.
“This is going to help me involve more undergraduates in my research. The fund was used to buy virtual-reality equipment to test the applicability of it in teaching discrete event simulation and manufacturing systems concepts. VR creates sensory experiences where students ‘see’ the effects of changes on system outputs.”
Ashour is currently supervising five undergraduate industrial engineering student researchers. They are working at an Erie-area hospital to analyze and improve healthcare systems in the facility’s operating rooms, emergency department, and cardiology outpatient clinic.