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University of Missouri

Engineering Solutions

A new faculty member explores the array of public policy questions requiring engineering solutions.

Ron McGarvey

Assistant Professor Ronald McGarvey uses operations research to help policymakers identify solutions to real‐world puzzles. Photo by Nicholas Benner.

Missouri paints fresh lane stripes on its major roads each year. To do this with the fewest lane‐striping trucks and work‐hours possible, how should those trucks be routed and where should they be based? And how efficient is too efficient, where any hiccup in weather or equipment carries an unacceptable risk of delay?

Those questions, and others like them, are why Assistant Professor Ronald McGarvey is at MU.

McGarvey, who started in fall 2013, is the first joint appointment between the College of Engineering and the Truman School of Public Affairs. His office is in the industrial and manufacturing systems engineering department. An expert in operations research, McGarvey takes on questions with public policy and engineering implications. He comes from the Rand Corp., a federally funded research and development center where he spent 11 years helping the U.S. Air Force tackle similar conundrums.

Because he investigates questions with competing priorities — cost versus traffic disruption in the case of lane striping — McGarvey develops mathematical models to identify alternative solutions depending on which priority is deemed most important. 

[Operations research] is in broad use in industry,” McGarvey says, citing how airlines route planes and set ticket prices. He likens it to the slogan “Intel’s Inside” — “It’s there, but you never see it.”

Although McGarvey is an efficiency expert by day, the father of three admits there are limitations to his skills. “My house is chaos,” he says.