Student Profile

Adam DeHollander

PhD, Industrial and Systems Engineering, 2026 (expected)

“I am passionate about working on projects that make a true difference in peoples’ lives. ”
Adam DeHollander, PhD student
Industrial and Systems Engineering

Tell me about yourself

Adam DeHollander sits in front of a chessboard.

I am a third year PhD student from Grand Rapids, Michigan. For my undergraduate study, I went to the University of Michigan Ann-Arbor for my degrees in applied mathematics and data science.

I work on a funded project with the National Football League (NFL). Under direction of the head of NFL broadcasting, we assist with designing the algorithms used to create the season schedule and predict viewership for each of those schedules. For my dissertation, I am currently working on another project to reduce crowding in hospital emergency departments. In this project, I am using the concept of how computers play chess and implementing that idea into the algorithms used to make more efficient decisions in emergency rooms.

What started you on your path to becoming an engineer, and more specifically industrial and systems engineering?

Always having been a math person, in elementary school I would be given a math book a few grades ahead and they would tell me to work by myself. Throughout my childhood, I competed in chess tournaments and loved to solve logic puzzles.

When entering my undergraduate studies, I chose a theoretical field of mathematics. However, as I continued the program, I realized I enjoyed the applications of my research in addition to the theory, which led to my decision to pursue operations research – a field that contains a lot of theoretical math, yet applies that math to many interesting applications.

What brought you to UB, and what do you like most about engineering in this school?

After applying to graduate schools, I ended up with a great fellowship offer from UB. I was able to work on a research project from the start, which was rare compared to other schools. The program here is quite amazing - my advisors offer me interesting projects and connect me with professionals.

In addition, the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering supported me when I suffered an accident that required four surgeries and a long recovery process. During this time, I moved back home to Michigan to recover, and the department set up Zoom meetings to continue my classes and research so I could continue my PhD instead of taking medical leave.

What are some of your general hobbies or student involvements on campus?

I first arrived at Buffalo not knowing anybody, but I met many great friends on campus through the UB Chess Club and in the community by playing pickleball.

What are you passionate about?

I am passionate about working on projects that make a true difference in peoples’ lives—that’s why I am currently working to improve efficiency in emergency departments. I have experienced many medical problems during my youth, leading to me to eventually enroll in online school. 

Due to my health, I frequented the emergency room. On one of my hospital visits, I arrived at a packed waiting room, with lines of people curled around the hallways. Dozens of the sick and elderly sat on the floor, some waiting hours to receive attention. During that summer I had been thinking about potential dissertation topics and upon seeing this traumatizing situation, I knew then that this would be an important project that would have a tangible, positive impact.

What project or accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am proud of my dissertation about improving emergency room efficiency with chess engines. The existing algorithms aimed to decrease waiting time are computationally slow, ineffective, and struggle with accounting for uncertainty. 

My research focuses on making realistic decisions given the scarce resources using similar algorithms to how computers play chess. By modeling staff members and random events as moves in the “game”, one can use algorithms from chess to plan multiple steps ahead. Computers playing chess can look through millions of inputs per second, so having a similar infrastructure in the emergency room would be revolutionary. The research is not ready to implement, but a lot of progress has been made.

What advice would you give to prospective students considering a major in engineering?

Engineering is an applied field that you interact with in everyday life, and yet many undergraduate courses are theoretical—you read a textbook, watch the lecture, and take exams.

When approaching engineering, it is beneficial to think about the real life applications in addition to the theory. If you see why it matters, you understand the theory more, helping with exams and problem-solving.

What are your future plans?

I intend to go into industry and move on from academia. Initially, I planned to work in the healthcare industry, perhaps for a large hospital system. However, I am now thinking about moving away from that direction.

It is important that I see the impact of my work. When I create cool algorithms, my efforts are negated if my research isn’t applied. I am now interested in working for a large technology company where there is a plethora of available data and large research teams that are quick to implement research.

DeHollander received the National Science Foundation Graduate REsearch Fellowship Program Scholarship in 2023