Where are you from?
Why did you choose UB?
The simplest answer is "the people." I've been on other campuses that felt sterile, and where there was a disconnect between students and professors. It isn't like that here. All you have to do is walk through the hallways and you'll see all kinds of people sharing their ideas. I still see professors from my freshman year having coffee with students at the Capen Cafe. We have great diversity of thought, paired with the "City of Good Neighbors" mentality, and that makes for an environment which is both fun and comfortable to learn in.
What do you like most about engineering at UB?
I love the emphasis that's put on participation in research and clubs. At the end of the day, engineers solve real-world problems, and that requires us to get out of the classroom and get our hands dirty. There are so many opportunities for students to do exactly that, at both the undergraduate and graduate levels.
Why did you choose to go into engineering?
I owe that one to my high school math teacher, who was a practicing engineer before he decided to go back to school for education. I actually really disliked math all the way through middle school, but my teacher put math in perspective for me. He showed me how math and critical thinking could be used to solve real-world problems, and more importantly, he started to talk to me about the types of problems that were out there to be solved. Once someone opens your eyes to that, a whole world of fascinating work opens up to you.
What is your favorite place on campus?
Any place that sells coffee! Although, as a Western New York native, I have to go with Tim Hortons.
What are you working on now?
I'm gearing up for the National Football League's "scheduling season." I'm funded by the NFL to develop techniques for building better NFL schedules. You can think of a season schedule like a puzzle - we have all the pieces (who plays who, which television networks need games to air, etc.), we just need to decide where they all go. It turns out that this is actually an incredibly complex problem that we approach with integer programming and combinatorial optimization techniques. Once the Super Bowl is over, we'll be actively working on building the 2019 schedule alongside the NFL headquarters team in Manhattan.
What else do you do on campus?
I've held lots of different roles during my time at UB, from campus tour guide to student ambassador for various committees. Currently, I'm the president of UB's chapter of INFORMS (Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences). We hold professional workshops and software seminars, host guest lecturers, work on pro bono projects with local companies, and offer social events for students throughout the semester. I also act as a student representative on the UB Engineering and Applied Sciences grievance adjudication pool, volunteer at open house events, and meet with visiting students who are interested in industrial engineering.
What have you done that you are most proud of?
This fall, one of my advisors and I received a provisional patent for a product we're developing. That's something I never thought I'd be able to say.
What are you passionate about?
Learning! From classroom knowledge to sports statistics and random trivia, I love the feeling of learning something new. I think that characteristic helps a great deal in a doctoral program. You spend a lot of time learning about a very specific area, and it's a lot easier if you enjoy the process.
What are your future plans?
I'm hoping to become a professor of operations research. My whole family is made up of educators, and I initially thought that I was going to be the black sheep by studying engineering. Once I had an opportunity to be a teaching assistant, though, I fell in love with being in front of a classroom. I've had plenty of moments where I struggled to understand something, so seeing the relief in a student's eyes when you've properly explained something to them is really gratifying to me. I love the process of solving problems on my own as well, though, so a research faculty position would be my ideal job.
What is your advice to prospective engineering students?
Don't feel like you have to know exactly what you want to work on when you start engineering school. Some of the things I was interested in my freshman year are still interests of mine, but some are totally different. You have plenty of time along the way to find out what areas you like working in, so don't worry if you don't have it all figured out on day one.
Zachary Steever received a 2018 Leaders in Excellence Scholarship from the UB Engineering and Applied Science Alumni Association (UBEAA).