The University of Massachusetts Amherst
University of Massachusetts Amherst

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MIE Seminar Series: "Design of an On-Demand Volunteer System"


Friday, April 12, 2019 - 12:00pm


Professor Jennifer Pazour, RPI


Gunness Student Center, Marcus Hall


Most nonprofits rely on committed, repeating volunteers.  For example, organizations like Meals-on-Wheels require volunteers to commit to repeatedly covering the Monday morning shift.  Such committed volunteers simplify the nonprofit’s resource planning tasks and are an efficient use of training resources.  However, this limits who can volunteer, and limited volunteers, means limited capacity on the number of people the nonprofit can serve.  This research explores how to develop a new on-demand volunteer system, able to tap into volunteers as needed.  A new hierarchical approach enables on-demand volunteers by recasting the platform's role as one providing personalized recommendations (i.e., a menu of multiple requests) to ad hoc volunteers. Choice can increase participation (capacity) and resource utilization. A central challenge is the need to balance demand commitments with choice for multiple ad hoc volunteers.  As performance is influenced by both the platform’s recommendations and the ad hoc volunteers’ reactions to these choices, a novel bilevel optimization framework captures the interdependent outcomes of volunteer selections. The computationally expensive mixed integer linear bilevel problem is transformed into a single level problem by proposing logical expressions. Insights on what influences the optimal number of choices and performance are explored.

Jen Pazour is an assistant professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, NY.  Her research and teaching focus on the development and use of mathematical models to guide decision making for logistics and supply chain challenges. Jen is a recipient of a National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award (2018), a Johnson & Johnson Women in STEM2D Scholars Award (2018), a Young Investigator Award from the Office of Naval Research (2013), and a National Academies of Science Gulf Research Program Early-Career Fellowship (2016).  She was awarded the 2018 IISE Logistics and Supply Chain Division Teaching Award and the 2017 Dr. Hamed K. Eldin Outstanding Early Career IE in Academia Award, both from the Institute of Industrial and System Engineers. She holds three degrees in Industrial Engineering (a B.S. from SDSMT, and a M.S. and Ph.D. from the University of Arkansas), and was previously on the faculty at the University of Central Florida. More information can be found at her research and teaching blog: