Sunday, October 20, 2019

Thoroughly Enjoyed Giving the Opening Keynote at the Mexican OR Society Conference

I returned late Friday night from Mexico City where I had the honor and pleasure of delivering the opening keynote at the VIII Annual Conference of the Mexican Society of Operations Research (OR). The conference took place October 16-18, 2019 in México City at the Instituto Tecnológico Autónomo de México (ITAM). The title of my keynote was: Operations Research: The TransfORmative Discipline for the 21st Century.  I had been invited early last March to deliver the opening keynote by Dr. Moncayo Martínez and Dr. Erick Centeno-Moreno of Texas A&M University.
I was very intrigued by this invitation and eager to return to Mexico especially since I had lived in Tulancingo, Mexico the summer between high school and college. I had won a national Spanish exam in the US and was invited to go there and to live with a family as part of the Experiment in International Living.  The experience was very special, so I accepted the invitation to speak at this conference.

I headed to Bradley Airport at 5AM last Tuesday and had two very pleasant flights on Delta, with the connection in Atlanta. I was graciously met at the airport and driven to my hotel, which was very close to ITAM Santa Teresa, the venue of the conference.  The views from my hotel room, which was on the 29th floor, and the neighboring area by the elevators, were spectacular.
Shortly after my arrival, I made my way to the conference site in order to get my bearings and I liked the auditorium very much as well as the gardens and flowers.
Welcoming remarks for the opening of the conference were made by Dr. David F. Muñoz Negrón of ITAM, the President of the Scientific Committee, and Dr. Elías Olivares Benítez, the President of the Mexican OR Society. I was introduced by Dr. Luis A. Moncayo Martínez of ITAM, who was President of the local Organizing Committee.
Interestingly, Dr. Moncayo Martínez had been to my Omega Rho Distinguished Lecture at the 2019 INFORMS Conference in Phoenix!

Many of the scientific talks were in Spanish so this gave me a great opportunity to practice a language that I love and, I must admit, I understood about 85% of what was said, and was even able to ask intelligent questions. What very much impressed me was the passion of the speakers, who clearly enjoy the research that they are doing and also enjoy in communicating it. It was wonderful to meet new professional colleagues and many students, as well. It was fun to be asked to be photographed with them, in addition.

In my keynote, which I have made publicly available, I included several photographs of luminaries in our profession, including one of Professor George Dantzig of Stanford, who has passed away, and who I so enjoyed conversing with during many conferences over the years. I hoped to energize and inspire the audience with my talk. I focused on advances in Operations Research in the form of networks and game theory for applications such as: congested urban transportation networks and the Braess paradox, perishable product supply chains from food to healthcare, cybersecurity, and disaster relief. The work on disaster relief was co-authored with a former student of mine, Emilio Alvarez Flores, an Isenberg School of Management and UMass Amherst Commonweath Honors College alumnus, who is originally from Mexico. He now works for Cisco and we communicate regularly. I also discussed some very recent research on global trade networks and the impacts of tariffs and quotas, with a case study on avocados from Mexico. The latter research was conducted with my doctoral student Deniz Besik. Deniz and I have, with co-authors, published a series of papers on the very timely topic of tariffs, quotas, and trade wars in such journals as the Journal of Global Optimization (the issue is to be featured at the Springer booth at the INFORMS 2019 conference that is now taking place in Seattle), Transportation Research E, and the European Journal of Operational Research.

I mentioned in my keynote that I became interested in trade policy instruments, when I was approached by a group of agricultural economists, researching the dairy industry, from Cornell University two decades ago, who wanted to collaborate on ad valorem tariffs focusing on Mexico! And, together, we published a series of paper. Hence, looking back, Mexico has permeated a nice amount of my research, spearheading both advances in methodologies as well as applications.

No conference would be complete without wonderful social engagement and, last Wednesday, after my keynote, I was treated to one of the most delicious lunches in my life at the restaurant Sylvestre. At the lunch were: Dr. Jose Blanchet of Stanford University (another keynote speaker and ITAM alum), Dr. David F. Muñoz Negrón and Dr. Luis A. Moncayo Martínez as well as Dr. Beatriz Rumboz, a Dean at ITAM who holds 2 PhDs, as well as Dr. Erick Centeno-Morena. The food, ambience, and conversations were all exquisite!
And we topped our delicious meals with a portfolio of desserts, which we shared.
I very much appreciate all the logistics arrangements for me and the outstanding hospitality.
It was also marvelous to hear from the conferees about many mutual friends in our profession, which is global in scale, but always feels local, because of the strength of ties.

I would like to wish all the members of the Mexican Society of Operations Research much continuing success in all of you endeavors and, again, I thank the society and the organizers of this conference for being such exemplary hosts! I returned to Massachusetts with many wonderful new ideas, powerful impressions, and new personal connections, which I value very much.

It was also great to hear that, while in Mexico, I received a book contract from Springer to edit another volume on Dynamics of Disasters, with a focus on risk and resilience, with my fellow co-editors, Professors Ilias S. Kotsireas and Panos M. Pardalos!

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

Cybersecurity and Vulnerability - Brilliant Lecture by Dr. Art House, Chief Cybersecurity Risk Officer of Connecticut

After teaching my Transportation and Logistics class this morning, it was time to help host the guest lecture of Dr. Arthur H. House, who is the Chief Cybersecurity Risk Officer of Connecticut. Former Isenberg School Dean, Dr. Thomas O'Brien, had made the introductions to Dr. House, for me and my great Finance colleague, Professor Mila Sherman. His lecture was part of the UMass Amherst Security Series.  The topic of his talk was: Cybersecurity and Vulnerability. Mila and I had had several grants on cybersecurity with colleagues from the Isenberg School and the College of Engineering and both of us continue to do research and to publish in this area. The UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter also helped to publicize his talk and the turnout was fabulous, with students and faculty from multiple schools and colleges at UMass Amherst!

We began his visit with a nice lunch at the University Club and we talked for 2 hours!
Joining Dr. House and me at lunch were: former Dean Tom O'Brien, a friend of House's for 6 decades, Chris Misra, who is the CIO at UMass Amherst, and Professor Mila Sherman.

Dr. House has had an incredible career, having earned his PhD at the Fletcher School of Diplomacy at Tufts University.  He became the Chief Cybersecurity Risk Officer for the State of Connecticut in October 2016, after four years as Chairman of Connecticut's Public Utilities Regulatory Authority (PURA). He recently returned from speaking in Latvia (and we compared notes, given my recent visit to Kyiv, Ukraine). His work includes cybersecurity strategy and action plans in the Black Sea and Balkan regions.  
He has worked in national security, and served as Director of Communications in the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency.  As a White House Fellow, he was Special Projects Officer at the National Security Council. Tom O'Brien was also a White House Fellow. House spent 10 years in the Congo, and shared some of those fascinating experiences with us at lunch. He also worked for the World Bank and  was a Congressional Adviser to the United States Mission to the United Nations.
In the United States Senate, Dr. House was Chief of Staff to Senate Majority Leader Robert Byrd and Senator Abraham Ribicoff and Legislative Assistant to Senator Chris Dodd.  Amazingly, as can be seen from various writeups on his career, specific assignments included the Camp David Peace Agreement, the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty and the Tokyo Round Trade Negotiations. The stories he shared with us at lunch even included the SALT negotiations at which he was present in Russia, with Brezhnev in attendance. It is not every day that you get to have lunch with someone who has taken part in major historical events in the US!  And can he do imitations of famous people; honestly, SNL should just hire him. His ability to reproduce accents is simply incredible and hilarious.
Since there were no classrooms available for this guest lecture at Isenberg, since it was prime class time, his talk took place at the Computer Science building. It was good to walk after the leisurely lunch (and we did share desserts).
Dr. Mila Sherman  introduced our speaker and then he began his mesmerizing lecture, which had the audience at the edge of their seats throughout.

He began his lecture by sharing some personal details and then asked the question: "Are we safe" and answered: "Of course, not!" We can't assume that a business or organization is safe from cyberattacks since even the Pentagon has been compromised.
He made the following points, which he then elaborated upon:
1. We are dependent on the digital world (computers and Internet) and, hence, vulnerable;
2. We need to protect ourselves;
3. We need to anticipate strategic surprises, and
4. States must play a critical role in cyber defense.
He emphasized that the advantages of cyber are immense from air traffic control to critical infrastructure but so are the vulnerabilities. The Internet was not designed with security in mind since it was supported by DARPA and was initially for academics who trusted one another. He envisions 3 Internets eventually, with Bakanization, and you can probably guess who would be behind the other two.
He spoke about who is behind the threats and the monetary aspects of selling the hacked products (which I have actually published a paper on in the INFORMS journal Service Science). Even health records are commodities that can be sold. He talked about phishing attacks as well as ransomware with the latter sometimes targeting smaller enterprises from hospitals to municipalities, etc. for payments in bitcoins.
Sadly, he stated that the "US is losing its edge" in cyber defense and also spoke about cyberwar and asymmetries.
He spoke about certain nation states targeting our elections and critical infrastructure and the details that he had were quite frightening. And, he even showed a slide of Kyiv at night after the cyberattack in 2015 on its power grid.
He emphasized that we need norms and rules and he suggested a great idea - for businesses and organizations to have a cyber rating similar to a credit score, and this would be audited regularly, since one's brand reputation as well as stock value can be seriously negatively affected after a cyberattack.
"Cyber is the perfect weapon" he said and "We need to defend ourselves." We can't get the feds to do this, so states must, and Connecticut is leading the way! 
He also noted the need to create a positive cybersecurity culture; to plan, and to be ready for the unexpected. Sad to say, he also sees "massive complacency." 

After his talk, Art House stayed to meet and continue the discussions with the audience. I was so delighted that even some of my undergrads, in addition to my PhD students, came. This was an incredible talk and educational experience!
Many thanks to Dr. Tom O'Brien for giving us this incredible opportunity with special thanks also to Professor Brian Levine, the Director of the Cybersecurity Institute at UMass Amherst! The brilliant lecture by Dr. Arthur H. House we will never forget!

Monday, September 30, 2019

Fabulous Talk on Refugee Resettlement Optimization in Our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series

This past Friday, we had the pleasure of kicking off our academic year with the first talk in our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series. We were absolutely delighted to have Professor Andrew Trapp of the Foisie School of Business at WPI give the talk, "Placement Optimization in Refugee Resettlement."

The award-winning UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter helps me to organize this speaker series and this is the 31st consecutive semester of it!

I welcomed the audience and Professor Trapp and announced upcoming talks in our series this semester. Then, my doctoral student, Mojtaba Salarpour, who was elected this year's Chapter President, did a more formal introduction. 
Professor Trapp captivated us with facts, on a topic drawn from the news headlines, along with an elegant mathematical model, coupled with machine learning, that he has developed, in conjunction with collaborators at Oxford University in England and Lund University in Sweden, and with his doctoral student, who is pursing a PhD in data science at WPI, and who was in the audience! The model has been implemented and is being utilized in practice by an NGO, HIAS.

He emphasized how there are now 1.428 million in dire need and how the initial place really matters for refugee resettlement. Hence, it is very important to get the initial match right. Their software is called Annie MOORE, after Anna Moore, which, according to the nice press release, was an Irish woman who was the first recorded immigrant processed at Ellis Island in the late 1800s. Professor Trapp's research on this topic is funded by a major NSF grant. 

At present, noone asks refugees what they would like, and it has been largely a manual matching process in the US.  Case by case processing  excludes benefits for all refugees simultaneously. He even gave us a demonstration of the software, which was fascinating. It allows a lot of flexibility for practitioners. My most recent paper is on international human migration networks under regulations, so I was personally very interested in his talk! Moreover, I had the pleasure of speaking at Foisie last year, and we have hosted both Professor Renata Konrad and Professor Joe Sarkis of WPI in our Speaker Series. Plus, one of my former PhD students, Dr. Sara Saberi, is a colleague of theirs at Foisie.

It was very gratifying to have faculty and students (even undergraduates) from the Isenberg School of Management, from the College of Engineering, the College of information and Computer Sciences, as well as the Department of Mathematics/Statistics at UMass Amherst in the audience!

The audience was very engaged, asking questions both during the lecture and afterwards. I took the group photo below as a memento.

We spend a lot of time identifying excellent speakers on timely topics and Professor Trapp was truly fabulous!  After his mesmerizing talk, we had the pleasure of dining with him at the University Club, and we continued the discussions. 
Then it was time to conduct an interview with Professor Trapp, which he graciously agreed to, and which will be posted eventually on the chapter's youtube channel: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UClVaXgOJ6wO6xRUMmcJ2_RQ/featured, where interviews with other speakers over the past 2 years can be found (and the advice provided therein is excellent!).

We also presented Professor Trapp with a gift, courtesy of the Isenberg School, and, with deep appreciation, I followed up with a formal thank you letter that I also copied to top administrators at WPI. Although it was late in the day on Friday, I was impressed by the acknowledgments of receipt that I received.  Special thanks are also extended to the Chapter's wonderful webmaster and blogger, Haris Csipetas, who is a PhD student in Transportation at UMass Amherst; have a look at: https://blogs.umass.edu/umassinf/2019/09/27/umass-informs-speaker-series-a-talk-by-dr-andrew-c-trapp/


Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Fascinating Visit to KSE (Kyiv School of Economics) in Ukraine as an International Academic Board Member

Over a year ago I was invited to serve on the International Academic Board of the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) in Ukraine. I accepted this appointment enthusiastically since I believe that it is important to help to support education in economics and business in this unique country. Plus, it was a big honor to be appointed to this board, which includes faculty from the US, Canada, and Europe.
It was extra special to see Professor Larry Samuelson of Yale University on the board since both of us had a magical time as Visiting Fellows at All Souls College at Oxford University in 2016. Also, the Nobel laureate in Economics, Professor Roger Myerson of the University of Chicago, is also a member of the International Academic Board of KSE.

Last year, I Skyped into the board meeting, but, this year, I was determined to make my way to Kyiv. As another board member - Professor Charlie Becker of Duke University told me - it is very important to have one's physical presence there to offer insights, to take part in discussions, and to meet with students, faculty, and staff.

Now this was a bit of a logistical challenge, since the meetings were over the weekend and I teach Thursdays and Tuesdays and did not want to miss a class. So, last Thursday morning I taught my Transportation and Logistics class at the Isenberg School and then headed to Boston Logan airport for a Delta flight to Amsterdam and then onwards to Kyiv via KLM (I had hoped). Well, while we were still on the tarmac at Logan, a part of the engine arrived and was assembled and my window seatmate could see this being done. Two engine checks were successful, so off we went on a "maiden" voyage, with a delay (and I had a short connection). So, despite the cheery crew telling us all that we would make our connections since "it only takes 5 minutes to disembark the plane," when we landed, we had to deplane via the stairs and then got bussed. I missed my KLM flight to Kyiv, despite running to the gate, and spent almost 5 hours in the Amsterdam Schiphol airport (which, luckily, is one of my favorites). I managed to get a flight to Kyiv on Ukraine Air, which I had flown on a while back from Kyiv to Simferopol in Crimea and back (quite the adventure, I must say, and I had blogged about that conference in Yalta).

The International Academic Board meeting took place all day Saturday at KSE in Kyiv and I was also welcomed to take part in the Board of Directors meeting all day on Sunday.
I would walk with Dr. Becker and Dr. Rick Ericson from the IBIS hotel to KSE each morning and it was fascinating to see the buildings, landscape, shops, infrastructure, and signs in Ukrainian.
In the photo below, another board member, Dr. Torbjorn Becker of Sweden, is in the background, in front of KSE and the car.
I was very impressed by the students, who have matriculated into the various Master's programs at KSE, and I had the pleasure of meeting entrepreneurs and even a medical doctor and a former minister of the Ukrainian Parliament! Their English was outstanding and I learned that children begin learning English in Ukraine in elementary school.

It was so special to meet the very motivated faculty, who are pushing for reforms and educating this generation. Moreover, I was absolutely delighted to hear that a colleague of mine at UMass Amherst, economics professor Dr. Ina Ganguli, had had a Fulbright at KSE in 2003, so we took a group photo of faculty who know her, which I forwarded to her. Her husband, Dr. Bogdan Prokopovych, is from Kyiv and is a fellow faculty member of mine at the Isenberg School.
 There was even KSE "swag" on display.
The Management Team at KSE has many females and I was very impressed by the number of female students that we got a chance to meet. The research being conducted there is very innovative and has immense potential given the tech talents of many individuals as well as the natural resources that Ukraine has.

We had wonderful coffee breaks and meals and, after a very fulfilling and busy Saturday, we took part in a dinner cruise (with dancing) on the Dnipro River, which was a KSE alumni event. I met alums who now work in major consulting companies, the government, the energy sector, etc. - very impressive! It was extra special to have Dr. Timofiy Mylanov at this and other events. He is the Honorary President of KSE and was recently appointed the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture of Ukraine! Amazingly, he is also an Economics Professor at the University of Pittsburgh (on leave).
The bridge in the photo above is over the Dnipro River and the light show was magnificent!

The beauty of Kyiv is spectacular and I managed to fit in a few walks to take in a number of sights.
I might add that the food was delicious at the hotel and at the various KSE events and I got a chance to have some borshcht but passed on the stuffed cabbage at the breakfast buffet.
I was delighted that I got asked for directions multiple times in both Ukrainian and in Russian. Ukrainian is my first language (I was born in Canada) and I have a degree from Brown University in Russian Language and Literature (as well as multiple degrees in Applied Math, specializing in Operations Research). My PhD dissertation was half on transportation and half on spatial economics.

Kyiv is quite a green city and I enjoyed the botanical gardens.
I purchased chocolates to bring back to my students, relatives, and friends, and, I must admit that the chocolates made in the factory of the former President of Ukraine, Poroshenko, are fabulous!

I made my flight from Kyiv to Amsterdam on Monday afternoon and then made it to Boston, also on KLM. Bright and early on Tuesday morning, I taught my Transportation and Logistics class. My students at the Isenberg School of Management were very interested to hear about my experiences in Ukraine, a country certainly in the news lately. And they devoured the box of chocolates below that I had brought back just for them.
I look forward to working with the faculty of KSE and its International Academic Board in order to further the success of its programs, faculty, and students. Reform is challenging but, if done right, will be transformative.