Meet Missouri Engineer, Dr. Casey Canfield

Casey Canfield is an assistant professor in Engineering Management and Systems Engineering  at Missouri University of Science and Technology (MST) in Rolla, Missouri. 

She earned a doctoral degree in engineering and public policy from Carnegie Mellon University with her dissertation focusing on cyber-attacks, a type of phishing, she said. Her research is about trying to figure out how to measure and understand the influence of the human part of the engineering systems and developing tools to describe systems in a way that better captures human aspects.

Engineering Systems Background

Her background is in energy systems – systems designed to supply energy-services to end-users

She said her PhD advisors were trained psychologists, but her degrees are in engineering – a background that makes her uniquely qualified to study human aspects of systems. 

After graduation she continued her training by completing a postdoctoral fellowship in science, technology and policy with the United States Department of Energy where she helped to manage research portfolios and identified funding opportunities.

She also had the opportunity to get “a high level view of what was going on in the solar industry and thought about what’s the next big idea and where this is moving in the future and what is going to push the industry forward,” she said. 

She thought she was going to stay in government but then she was offered a position at MST and said she couldn’t pass up this opportunity. “It’s kind of cool, I got to switch sides,” referring to how she is now an assistant professor and researcher. “I am on the other side of that equation [from my fellowship at the Department of Energy].”

Research Focuses

At MST, along with her students, Dr. Canfield conducts experiments with human subjects in order to assess benefit cost analyses and risk analyses for engineering systems. 

Community Choice Aggregation

She is involved with several projects including one funded by the Sloan Foundation, where she is looking at Community Choice Aggregation (CCA), a type of new energy utility. “This organization sort of sits between you and your utilities,” she said. “The focus is on reducing costs and how that affect’s renewable procurement.” She is approaching the study in the context of infrastructure and human behavior. 

Artificial Intelligence

Dr. Canfield is also working on a project with the St. Louis University Transplant Center related to artificial intelligence (AI) in the context of kidney transplants, the implications of AI for human decision making, and corresponding communication strategies. “There’s an issue with high discarded rates of organs, where their organs theoretically could have been transplanted but they just didn’t get a match. A lot of times these are organs that are kind of lower quality or higher risk organs,” she said. This makes the matching process challenging so her team is looking at AI tools that would help to match for transplants. Her colleagues are working on the AI part and she is working on how they can communicate using AI.

The process will also include the patient, the transplant team, and the organ procurement organization. “There are a lot of different people who would interface with this and how it would work. We need to figure out what it will look like and what types of information they need,” she said.

“It’s about trying to figure out how we can help people use data and AI to make better decisions and figure out how these pieces interact with their decision-making process,” she said.

Infrastructure and Broadband

Dr. Canfield thinks broadly about infrastructure, how it relates to rural broadband space, and how they can develop better decision tools for public sector actors. “One of the things that interested me about broadband is that there’s so many parallels to the energy system. I feel like it’s really translatable for all the stuff I’m thinking about in terms of the energy system and how can we apply that to the broadband system with a focus on the internet.”

The lack of the internet is a huge problem for a lot of the country, she said. In Missouri, there are over a million people who don’t have high speed internet and the majority of those people live in rural areas, especially now with Covid-19. She said she was thinking about the lack of internet in rural areas before the pandemic, but it’s been emphasized since the lockdown. 

“The internet is just such a core part of economic development, education, and health care, so it’s this huge barrier to being able to move areas forward. When I first moved to Missouri, I observed a huge problem,” she said. “I started thinking about, what type of research can I do in this space.”

Finding a Home in Missouri

Dr. Canfield said she was excited about moving to Missouri to work at MST. While at the college she has gotten involved with the MOST Policy Fellows advisory board. She wasn’t sure what to expect when she moved to Missouri, but she has “really enjoyed it.” 

The best part of being a scientist is the freedom to explore ideas and direct her own path, she said. “I’m in an engineer management systems engineering department. So, it’s very, very broad.  There’s a lot of space in there for me to work with. I haven’t had the opportunity to take advantage of my expertise related to public policy interface and kind of bring a lot of policy flavor into the Department,” she said. But she looks forward to using her policy background to help solve problems facing Missourians. 

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