CICMHE Member Spotlight: Interview with Professor and Author Dr. Alice Smith

Our continuing series highlights the members of the College Industry Council on Material Handling Education.  This month we featured Dr. Alice Smith from Auburn University. Dr. Smith is a professor in the Industrial and Systems Engineering Department and the Department of Computer Science and Software Engineering.  She was the editor of the recently published, Women in Industrial and Systems Engineering: Key Advances and Perspectives on Emerging Topics

MHI: Can you share with us your areas of focus and research? 
I teach one to two classes per term at Auburn University in Industrial and Systems Engineering. My primary undergraduate class is Statistical Quality Control, and my primary graduate class is Advanced Data Mining for Operations. Each year I also lead a senior design team project.  Recent such projects have improved material handling at diverse industries including vitamin manufacturing and additive manufacturing for aerospace.  I supervised about a half dozen doctoral students who work on research projects that currently span from warehouse design to grocery store displays to drone delivery to empty container depot operations.  I also am leading a large project connected with the U.S. Airforce for wargaming simulation improvement and participate in a National Science Foundation project using data mining and predictive modeling to better understand people’s behavior during the pandemic with regard to virus mitigation tactics (such as mask wearing) using social media. I also have active research collaborations involving logistics with researchers in Chile, Colombia, Mexico, and Turkey.  This international aspect enriches the impact of the research and enables the students to expand their global understanding.

MHI: Tell us about your involvement within CICMHE?
This is my second time as a member of CICMHE since I was also a member in the late 1990’s into the early 2000’s.  I was so pleased to be invited to join CICMHE again and have enjoyed this second term even more than the first one.  I am a member of our Special Events group and am leading the 2022 Material Handling Teachers Institute (MHTI)  which will be held in Buffalo, NY in August of 2022.

MHI: What interesting research and consulting are you involved in?
I have three primary research / consulting interests related to MHI.  The first is warehousing, the second is drone delivery, and the third is data mining/analytics.  I am just finishing a White Paper on the Forward Pick Area that was commissioned by MHI.  This stems from my previous and ongoing research in warehouse design and operations.  The ongoing work involves the design of the forward pick area which has been mostly overlooked by the literature in the past. Past warehouse projects include optimal design of non-traditional order picking layouts. Another focus is using drone – truck tandems for last mile delivery with an emphasis on healthcare applications. This has good potential for the current pandemic to deliver and pick up COVID tests. This is an exciting and emerging area, and we are grateful for current funding from the University Research Program of Toyota Material Handling North America. More information can be found on  A final area of expertise is data mining and data analytics which can be useful in a variety of applications of material handling.  I am a specialist in both supervised and unsupervised models for clustering, classification, estimation, and prediction.

MHI: In what ways would you like to see MHI and CICMHE become more closely connected?
CICMHE is an integral part of MHI that provides, improves, and advocates for material handling education.  As such, it is pivotal for the future of the industry in terms of providing interested and knowledgeable new employees, and eventually leaders, of material handling.  Most of the faculty involved with CICMHE are also conducting important research in the realm of logistics that will positively impact the future of the industry as well.  However, as academics, we must remain grounded in reality and understand the many challenges and considerations faced by practitioners.  The MHI members are a vital link to ensure that the educational programs being developed and implemented are relevant, comprehensive, and pragmatic. MHI members are also tremendously important in informing and guiding the research avenues of academics and for providing opportunities for mutually beneficial joint projects.  Other specific activities that benefit industry are the white papers produced by CICMHE members, the CICMHE liaisons with the product groups, and facilitating student involvement at MHI events such as Student Day. The industry members of MHI have supported academia by providing case studies, writing letters of support and supplying in-kind support for research proposals for government funding, and opening up co-op and internship employment for the university students.  I believe that communication between CICMHE and the MHI leadership and membership are the key to making this as productive a relationship as possible.  At CICMHE we are making concerted efforts to publicize our activities and services to MHI members.  At the same time, the MHI leadership have been fully involved with and supportive of CICMHE.  Naturally, we wish to strengthen this beneficial connection between practitioners and academia so we are all pulling in the same direction for the furtherment of the material handling industry.

Look for more spotlights in the coming months or access the previous spotlight from  September on David Porter, CICMHE President.