For assistant Professor Chinweike Eseonu, engineering is about people, which is why his research revolves around improving human experiences through processes improvement in healthcare, manufacturing, and new product design and development. More importantly, he strives to extend the land grant mission to engineering by transforming the traditional technology commercialization process to help improve rural economies. “I apply lean principles to complex social processes,” said Eseonu. Lean principles emphasize eliminating waste, streamlining flow, and maximizing value. For example, in healthcare Eseonu uses lean methodology to improve patient experiences by reducing wait times, reduce errors by improving care coordination, and reduce costs. He also investigates solutions to health care provider burnout and dissatisfaction by viewing providers as internal customers in the healthcare process.

Eseonu arrived at Oregon State in 2012, the same year that he earned his Ph.D. in systems and engineering management from Texas Tech. Originally from Nigeria, he attended high school in the Netherlands and the United Arab Emirates, then completed his B.S. in mechanical engineering at the University of Ottawa, Canada, and a M.Sc. in engineering management from the University of Minnesota – Duluth. In 2015, one of Eseonu’s research papers was chosen as one of the top four submissions in the Engineering Management Journal, the official journal of the American Society for Engineering Management.

Eseonu advocates technology-driven humanitarian engineering and social entrepreneurship, particularly in rural Oregon communities that are struggling economically. Among his long-term goals is to team up research labs at Oregon Stare with communities to develop technological solutions to their problems and help them build a flourishing economic base. The first such project is developed food processing machines for a group of three female entrepreneurs from Monroe, Oregon, where he and his students helped the women expand a start-up company that makes Sope, a traditional Mexican dish. Under his guidance, students developed a device that standardized production and increased output five-fold. “We took the commercialization process, which Oregon State already does so well with technology, and applied it to non-traditional research,” said Eseonu. “As a land grant university, I see our role as supporting the revitalization of communities in ways like this.”

At the Oregon State Veterinary Hospital, Eseonu applies lean methodology to improve resilience and reduce delays in patient care. To define the problem, he surveyed employees and customers, and identified baseline measures, which he uses to show relative benefit in keeping with his focus on the conceptual shift needed within organizations for successful lean adaptation. Lean methods, he said, often fail because organizational culture is not prepared for such a large paradigm shift. His work at the hospital also addressees patient scheduling, how veterinarians and students interact with customers, and communication across the organization. Eseonu is also working with Samaritan Hospital System in Oregon to evaluate patient and employee experiences and to determine the causes of physician burnout. “We’re looking at what physicians face each day: what does their work flow look like, what are their pressure points, why do they feel overwhelmed? We plan to apply lean techniques and sort out the impact of social interactions to solve the problem,” he said.

Engineering was a big part of Eseonu’s life from an early age. Through his father, a mechanical engineer with Shell Petroleum, he witnessed the importance of engineering to his country and beyond. “I saw the impact and contributions that engineers could make to the community, and it became something of a passion for me,” he said. His degree in mechanical engineering, while versatile, didn’t satisfy his desire to address the human side of the equation, so he went on to study engineering management and industrial engineering.

In his teaching, Eseonu strives to relate classroom knowledge to the real world so that students appreciate its potential beyond the classroom. “Problem-based learning is one of my underlying themes,” he said. “I just provide information and then use activities to illustrate why that information is important. My goal is to create the conditions for students to create their own learning.” He believes also that by creating partnerships between Oregon State engineering and communities throughout Oregon – as he did with the Sope makers in Monroe – the college can attract a more diverse pool of students. “If we show what Oregon State engineering can do to revitalize communities, my hypothesis is that more students from different backgrounds will realize that they can make a big difference by becoming engineers.”

— Steve Frandzel

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