Saturday, April 18, 2009

Kleber-Gery lecture, St. Olaf College, Rube Goldberg, and Jesse James

I returned from Northfield, Minnesota last evening. I had been at St. Olaf College since Wednesday and Thursday night at 8PM I gave the Kleber-Gery lecture. Posters for my lecture entitled, "Synergies and Vulnerabilities of Supply Chain Networks in a Global Economy: What We Can Learn from Half a Century of Advances in Transportation," were hanging throughout several of the buildings. My talk took place in the Regents Hall of Science, which is a spectacular building that opened up this past Fall. It is already garnering much attention for its design and environmental friendliness. This lecture was endowed by a former student at St. Olaf, Jeff Brown, who enjoyed both mathematics and economics. Professor Kleber attended my lecture, which was thrilling, as well as the reception given by my host, Professor Steve McKelvey, at his home the evening before. Steve is my "academic brother" since he and I had the same dissertation advisor at Brown University, Dr. Stella Dafermos.

I stayed in Northfield at the Archer House Inn, which dates to 1877, and I got the "bridal" room, complete with a canopy bed. Northfield's history includes the 1876 raid of Jesse James and his gang, who robbed the First National Bank in Northfield that year. The town commemorates that event each year in September.

It was terrific to see St. Olaf College, which has a rich Norwegian heritage, and the architecture, both old and new, is simply stunning. The serenity of the campus and its beauty plus the attention that I saw given to students and the numbers that showed up to office hours, all speak eloquently of a liberal arts education. I had the opportunity to go to lunch with female students, to visit Professor McKelvey's operations research and finance classes, and to enjoy meeting with economics faculty and students as well as the math, statistics, and computer science faculty. I very much appreciated the energy of the faculty and the attention to detail in planning my visit. Also, the weather was magnificent -- sunny and the temps in the 70s! Faculty, however, still have snow survival gear in their car trunks and my host told me how he trekked one day 3 miles from his home in snowshoes to teach his classes!

I enjoyed giving my talk very much and was so pleased when the students packed the beautiful room in -- they were even sitting in the aisles and on the stairs. My talk lasted until almost 9:30PM and I enjoyed the questions and comments afterwards. I even got to meet a legislator from Minnesota who came to hear me speak.

St. Olaf is known for its programs in mathematics, science, and music. A sizable portion of its graduates in these fields pursue advanced degrees. One student that I met (many are from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Iowa, and surrounding states) is from Norway and she will be graduating next month and then matriculating into the PhD program at Stanford University in petroleum engineering. She was also involved in the 2009 Rube Goldberg competition and the St. Olaf team won the 2009 national championship beating out major universities such as Illinois and Texas. I got to see the apparatus and to meet with the students who designed it. The winning demonstration can be viewed on youtube.