CCHE Seminar Series: Mathematical Modeling Enabled Cornell University to Reopen for In-Person Instruction in Academic Year 2020-21 and To Remain Open in Fall 2021

Shane G. Henderson
Cornell University

Friday October 15, 2021, 10am-12pm, Zoom

Abstract: Like all universities, in the summer of 2020 Cornell faced the question of whether to go online-only in the fall or to bring students back for a residential semester. Like many universities, Cornell decided on a residential semester. Like few universities, Cornell managed to keep Covid-19 at bay for the entire fall semester, and the success has continued to date. Our modeling team played a major role in the decision to reopen for residential instruction, perhaps paradoxically showing that with appropriate interventions a residential semester was safer than an online-only semester. Our team also helped design many of the interventions, including asymptomatic surveillance through pooled testing on-site, adaptive testing and class scheduling. The arrival of the alpha variant in the spring caused us to strengthen our interventions, again only after modeling showed the potential benefits. Since then we have worked on models of classroom transmission and models to capture the potential impacts of Delta. All of this modeling required great care in capturing uncertainty in key input parameters such as asymptomatic infection rates and, more recently, vaccine efficacy. As of writing this abstract, Cornell is open for residential instruction in the fall of 2021. I’ll share a perspective on this wild ride.

Joint work with students J. Massey Cashore, Ning Duan, Alyf Janmohamed, Brian Liu, Anneliese Markus, Jiayue Wan, Yujia Zhang, and with faculty members Peter I. Frazier and David B. Shmoys.

Professor Shane G. Henderson holds the Charles W. Lake, Jr. Chair in Productivity in the School of Operations Research and Information Engineering (ORIE) at Cornell University. His research interests include discrete-event simulation, simulation optimization, emergency services planning and transportation. He is the editor in chief of the open-access journal Stochastic Systems. He is an INFORMS Fellow and a co-recipient of the INFORMS Wagner Prize for his work on bike-sharing programs. He has served as Director of the School of ORIE, as chair of the INFORMS Applied Probability Society, and as simulation area editor for Operations Research. He has previously held positions in the Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering at the University of Michigan and the Department of Engineering Science at the University of Auckland. He likes cats, climbing walls, biking, Harry Potter and being a Dad.