Students in depth: ASU capstone project with DHS TSA

January 30, 2019

Students In Depth:  ASU capstone project with DHS Transportation Security Administration (TSA)

A group of ASU undergraduate students in Industrial Engineering have the chance to improve national security while completing their capstone project. The eight students are developing analytical models and collecting critical field data to improve how airport checkpoints function. The students’ work is part of a CAOE project led by Principal Investigators Kelvin Cheu (Professor, University of Texas, El Paso) and Ron Askin (Professor, Arizona State University).  Jorge Sefair (Assistant Professor, Arizona State University) is also an active investigator on the team and has been instrumental in mentoring the students during the research process.  

The capstone team initially included six students and has recently grown to eight students for the spring 2019 semester after the students determined they could use extra help with data collection in the field.  

Team Members: 

  • Danielle Adams
  • Brianna Chavez
  • Emily Gilmore
  • Meghan Iacuelli
  • Christopher Maalouf
  • Juan Panduro
  • Bianca Geric
  • Steven Smith


Many of the capstone students have interned within various manufacturing and healthcare companies and were surprised at the impact that students could have to improve public processes. Student researcher Meghan Iacuelli observed that one of the most beneficial parts of working on the project was “seeing how the analytical tools and models we are creating align with real-life situations."

Student researcher Emily Gilmore echoed this experience. “I didn't realize that data collection is so hard.  In many of our classes we are given data by professors or other researchers, but during this project, we had to figure out how to collect the data. We encountered challenging things that we didn't account for in the lab such as young children and people with disabilities going through the checkpoints, and we faced environmental challenges such as decreased visibility to observe because of physical barriers such as poles or walls,” she said.

Student researcher Brianna Chavez highlighted the benefits of working directly with DHS and having the opportunity to observe Transportation Security Officers (TSOs) in a normal working environment.  “The TSOs would know best why policies aren’t working,” she said. “Having the opportunity to observe and see how regulations and policies get translated into people doing their job was very beneficial as a researcher working to improve the process. I don't think that anyone on the team will be able to walk through the airport in the same way." 

All the capstone students agreed that having the experience to work directly with TSA has been extremely positive and has exposed them to the challenges of creating tools and process that will have real impact on national security.    Iacuelli summed it up best for the team - “ I didn't realize until we started this project how many different responsibilities the TSO's have and the amount of effort that goes into keeping the TSOs safe so that they can do their jobs effectively.  We want this project to create something that is useful and can make a real impact on our national security.”