MIT Massachusetts Institute of Technology

Choosing a College Roommate: How Multi-Criteria Decision Modeling Can Help

Mahdokht Kalantari
Doctoral Student
Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI, USA

Kenneth R. Chelst
Professor of Operations Research
Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering
Wayne State University
Detroit, MI, USA

This lesson is designed to introduce Multi-Criteria Decision Making (MCDM) methodology. Students can apply MCDM to a wide range of real-world decision contexts such as selecting a cellphone plan, choosing a roommate or teammate, deciding which college to attend, and planning where to go on vacation. In each of these decision contexts, there are conflicting criteria of interest to the decision maker. The goal of MCDM is to enable individuals to use a structured analytical methodology for choosing the best alternative as measured by a weighted function of diverse measures that reflects their preferences. This lesson does not require any particular mathematical prerequisites. The techniques introduced in this lesson are straightforward and based on basic mathematical functions of scaling and calculating a weighted function. The lesson is designed to be taught in 2 class periods. Segments 1 to 5 focus on framing and organizing the data collection process and can be discussed in the first session. Segments 6-9 focus on analyzing the data and making the final choice and can be discussed in the second session. The tables that will be used in class activities are provided and can be printed for students to work on. Some of the class activities that have been suggested for breaks include defining objectives and measures, coming up with appropriate ranges for measures, converting data to a common unit, weighting the measures, and calculating the final scores for each alternative. This lesson can be followed with a team project.

Mahdokht Kalantari is a doctoral student in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Wayne State University. She is currently doing research on Viral Marketing Campaigns for Professional Networks in Social Media. She also teaches a graduate level course in Decision Making and Risk Analysis at Wayne State University. 

Kenneth Chelst is Professor of Operations Research (OR) and Director of Engineering Management in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at Wayne State University in Detroit, Michigan. He oversees a master’s degree program for Ford Motor Company engineers on a career path to technical leadership. For the past 20 years, Dr. Chelst has been developing mathematics curriculum designed to answer the commonly asked student question – “When will I ever use this?” For more information, please see the following link:

This site is developed by Applied Mathematics Practices, a non-profit provider of high school curriculum based on real world decision contexts.

This site, sponsored by the Natural Resources Leadership Institute of North Carolina State University, presents an excellent overview of Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis, as well as an application of this valuable tool to a real life case study.

This Wikipedia entry provides a comprehensive presentation and discussion of Multiple-criteria decision-making or multiple-criteria decision analysis (MCDA).

This resource, sponsored by Make It Rational, presents an excellent and visually clear overview of Multi-criteria evaluation, a fundamental step of the rational decision-making process.

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