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Student research nets publication on organ donation, distribution

May 13, 2020
A man wearing glasses smiles for a picture
A man wearing glasses smiles for a picture

KOKOMO, Ind. – What began as a class project turned into an international conference publication for one Indiana University Kokomo student.

Zachary Patterson worked with Abdullah Canbaz, assistant professor of computer science, on a project involving human organ donation networks. They examined how many people are on the waiting list for organs, how many are donated each year, and how many people are added to the list, and which medical centers perform transplant surgeries. They built a network of hospitals, looking at distance between them, and created an algorithm for distributing available organs. 

“We want to make sure people who need an organ can get one,” said Patterson, from Greentown. “Our goal was to reduce the waiting list as quickly and efficiently as possible, to make a good match that won’t be rejected, and to make sure available organs are transplanted. We analyzed to see where there are inefficiencies, and if there are ways to improve the system. There are alarming statistics of organs that are donated and not used.”

Their publication was accepted for the 8th International Conference on Complex Networks and their Applications, in December 2019 in Lisbon, Portugal. Canbaz noted having it accepted, even though they could not attend, is a great accomplishment, because the peer reviewed conference accepts only about 25 percent of applicants.

He saw Patterson’s potential in his computer programming class, noting he was very prompt and active in class discussions. When his class project turned into a promising research topic at the end of the semester, Canbaz offered him a research assistantship.

“I am always looking for students who can go the extra mile, to consider working on extracurricular research activities,” he said. “If I see that there is potential, I hire them as research assistants until they graduate. Zachary was the first student I hired until he graduates.”

His work ethic made him stand out, Canbaz added.

“It’s not uncommon that someone might speak with him about a concept or work to be one, and after a few days, he returns with results beyond what he was asked to investigate,” he said.

The research assistantship was a pivotal part of Patterson’s IU Kokomo experience.

“Dr. Canbaz has been a huge part of my foundation I’ve built here. He’s been a big influence,” he said. “He has high expectations, and helps us set higher goals. You get a ton of value out of the time you spend with him.”

He graduates in May, and accepted a job in his field during the fall semester. It was originally set to begin in May, but was pushed back to June because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Patterson appreciates the opportunities he’s had at IU Kokomo, noting that he began his degree at a bigger university, away from home.

“I had this idea because IU Kokomo was closer to home, it would be like a community college experience, and that’s not the case at all,” he said. “The caliber of the instruction is high. I’ve enjoyed it and learned a lot.”

He’s been a full time student while also working full time at Aptiv, and said working and going to school at the same time has benefitted him. His employer worked around his school schedule, which made it easier for him to balance work and school.

“It was a big time commitment to have those combined, but it helped me grow and become a stronger professional,” Patterson said. “It really gave me an advantage. I was able to apply a lot of what I was learning in class to what I was doing at work. It reinforced my classes, and gave me people I could reach out to. It was fortunate for me in terms of growing my skills and myself as an intellectual.”

While he’s looking forward to completing his degree and starting his career, he may consider graduate school in the future.

“I’m looking forward to having a regular schedule that doesn’t change,” he said. “I enjoyed the time I spent here, dedicated to learning. I like to learn things and grow, which is something that will continue in my career. Software and technology is essentially life-long learning.”

Indiana University Kokomo celebrates 75 years as north central Indiana’s choice for higher education.

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