Ph.D. Spotlight: Faisal Alkhannan Alkaabneh


Faisal Alkhannan Alkaabneh was the very first student accepted into Cornell Engineering’s Systems Ph.D. program when it was approved in 2016. “I was already at Cornell, working toward a doctorate in Civil and Environmental Engineering (CEE) when I heard about the new Systems Ph.D.” says Alkaabneh. “I knew right away it was the perfect option for me.”

Alkaabneh grew up in Amman, Jordan and received his Bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering from the University of Jordan. “I loved computers as a kid and thought about majoring in Computer Science, but then I decided to study Industrial Engineering instead,” says Alkaabneh. “It is the only engineering major offered that is directly tied to business.”

After earning his B.S., Alkaabneh worked as an instructor for a semester at the University of Jordan and then earned his Master of Science degree in Engineering Systems and Management from the Masdar Institute of Science and Technology in Abu Dhabi. His work there resulted in a Best Thesis award. Alkaabneh then took a position as a Research Engineer at the Masdar Institute. He worked with a team of researchers on an algorithm to improve the scheduling of cranes at the ADCP Mina Zayed Port. Their work led directly to savings of more than $30,000 per week for the port operators.

Alkaabneh first heard about Cornell from one of his professors in Abu Dhabi. “When I decided to come to Cornell for my doctoral studies, it was in part because of the interdisciplinary nature of the College,” says Alkaabneh. “And once I got here I saw that the saying ‘Any person, any study’ is really a true fact at Cornell.” Alkaabneh spent his first two years at Cornell looking at logistics and supply chain modeling and optimization. Recently, he has sharpened the focus of his research.

“I heard a talk by the Dyson School’s Professor Miguel Gomez,” says Alkaabneh. “And it inspired me to take my research in a new direction. I am looking specifically at food bank operations in the Food Bank of the Southern Tier (of Upstate NY, located in Elmira). For so many people, there is a direct link between food insecurity and poor nutrition. Food banks often measure success by the number of pounds of food they distribute. I am working with computer science students to build a digital platform food banks can use to improve nutrition for their clients during distribution operations.”

In addition, Alkaabneh would like to tap into the large amounts of food that get wasted every year. “As things are now, the items and the quantities supplied to the food bank are inconsistent,” says Alkaabneh. “I would like to create an Uber-type service that would connect food banks to potential donors such as restaurants, homes, grocery stores and wherever people have extra food they are going to dispose of. Then we could get this food to the food bank. It could help minimize food waste and at the same time allow food banks to supply food with a better nutritional balance.”

Alkaabneh works with Associate Professor Oliver Gao. He hopes to graduate with his Ph.D. in Systems Engineering in May 2020. In addition to his research, Alkaabneh also enjoys teaching. He was awarded the prize for Best TA in in Systems in 2017. He also enjoys running and has finished three half marathons since moving to Ithaca. After earning his doctorate, Alkaabneh would like to continue doing research, but he is not yet sure if it will be as a professor or in some other capacity. “I am not sure what sort of job I will take, but I do know that I enjoy advancing basic knowledge and finding things people did not know before.”

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