New faculty Hallie Sue Cho: Beyond star ratings

MyVU is spotlighting a select group of new faculty for 2019-20. Read more profiles in the series.

By Jan Read

As an undergraduate at MIT, Hallie Sue Cho split her summers between internships and research opportunities in mechanical engineering. By her senior year, she was convinced her future lay not in industry, but in research and academia.

“I’ve always liked making things,” Cho says. “But for me, the excitement comes from solving problems and having the freedom to pursue my interests.”

She brings that zest for discovery plus experience in product design, market research and business strategy to the Owen Graduate School of Management as an assistant professor of operations management. Cho is teaching an elective in business analytics focused on strategies to wrangle big data into actionable information.

After earning a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and management science, Cho began work on her master of science in mechanical engineering at MIT. As a graduate student, she co-founded OttoClave, a low-cost medical instrument sterilization system designed for rural health clinics in developing countries.

“Invasive medical instruments have to be heated at 121 degrees Celsius (250 degrees Fahrenheit) for a minimum of 30 minutes to be sterile—boiling them for 15 minutes isn’t sufficient,” Cho says. “But sterilization is time-consuming, and an unstable heat source can corrupt the whole process.”

Using a pressure cooker, a pressure sensor and a talking cycle monitor, OttoClave proved successful during trials in Nepal, reducing infections and improving patient outcomes. But after a year of development supported by funding, the OttoClave team determined their product wasn’t viable as a business.

“My goal was to find ways to develop that information into quality signals that the manufacturers could use to boost their product.”

The team members moved on, with Cho resuming her studies, this time pursuing her doctorate in management science at INSEAD, a graduate business school based in France and Singapore. The OttoClave project gave her experience in convincing stakeholders to adopt new technology, which led to her interest in how perception of quality influences consumers. Her dissertation focused on understanding the impact of online reviews—both star ratings and written responses—on product demand.

“You’d think the stars—1 to 5—would be the summary measure that capture all aspects of a review, but they’re really not. The logical, analytic reviews are in the text responses,” she says. “My goal was to find ways to develop that information into quality signals that the manufacturers could use to boost their product.”

After working and studying abroad for seven years, Cho is happy to be back stateside. “I was ready to come home,” she says. “And I love being in a university setting. I’m excited to be here in Nashville and at Vanderbilt.”

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