Author: Danielle McKenna
A photo of Melissa Tilashalski
Melissa Tilashalski is working with two CaSE undergraduate students to develop systems engineering case studies that will be used in the Mathematical Decision Making class.

Melissa Tilashalski, lecturer in the Department of Civil and Systems Engineering (CaSE) and the director of undergraduate studies for systems engineering at Johns Hopkins University, has been awarded a grant from the university’s Instructional Enhancement Grant Program to enhance the systems engineering curriculum by incorporating real-world problem-solving. 

The Instructional Enhancement Grant Program is an initiative that enables faculty to partner with technology-savvy students to develop resources that enhance pedagogy, increase or facilitate access to course content, encourage active learning, promote critical thinking, or support student collaboration.  

Working with Tilashalski, CaSE undergraduate students Diran Jimenez ’26 and Tayo Ilunga-Reed ’25 will develop case studies to be used in the Mathematical Decision Making class. Students will analyze an existing system and develop system improvements based on the theoretical knowledge they’ve developed.  

Tilashalski said that “students were particularly excited about applying their systems engineering and optimization knowledge to current real-world problems. It’s incredibly motivating for them.” 

“We have an opportunity to make systems engineering much more relevant and engaging in a classroom setting. There are a few scenarios that have come to mind already, like optimizing shuttle routes at Johns Hopkins University and the medical campus, improving patient scheduling at hospitals and other medical facilities, and streamlining campus dining hall supply chains,” said Jimenez. 

Once the case studies are developed, Tilashalski will implement them during the 2025 spring semester and collect student feedback. She also will share the case studies with other educators through INFORMS Transactions on Education, a peer-reviewed journal in education science for operations research, management science, and analytics. 

“It takes significant time and effort to determine scenarios, coordinate with contacts, and collect useful data for analysis, but it’s essential so that students can apply their skills and understand the impact they’ll have,” said Ilunga-Reed, who is already working with Tilashalski on research credits towards his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. 

A proponent of heuristic techniques, Tilashalski’s academic interests include curriculum engagement through games and experiential learning. She hopes that integrating real-world case studies into the systems engineering curriculum will inspire and prepare students for future challenges in their careers. 

“This initiative not only enhances the learning experience but also prepares students to address real-world challenges effectively,” said Tilashalski.