Sunday, September 6, 2009

Student Chapters and Networking

This Wednesday, September 9, 2009, will mark the fifth anniversary of the UMass Amherst INFORMS (Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences) Student Chapter. Coincidentally, last year's chapter officers will be holding a meeting that day to discuss elections for this year's officers and to plan additional activities. The Fall 2009 Speaker Series has already been organized and we are delighted that Dr. Mary Helander of IBM will be speaking on Friday, September 18, 2009, on food safety and global supply chains.

This chapter has been an outstanding outlet for networking among students and faculty who have been involved with it. The chapter is now hosting its eleventh semester of speakers, and we are looking forward to a fabulous new semester and new academic year.

Above I have posted photos from last year's INFORMS conference in Washington, DC, and the visits and talks of Tom Vanderbilt, the author of Traffic, and Dr. Alex Pentland of MIT, the author of Honest Signals, at which many chapter members participated.

Students who have been members of this chapter have assumed faculty positions at: Virginia Tech, Tulane University, the University of Idaho, the University of Memphis, the University of Sydney in Australia, York University in Canada, Texas Wesleyan University, two Pennsylvania State University campuses, as well as other institutions. Undergraduates have also been active participants in chapter activities and its Speaker Series.

Nationally, there are over 30 INFORMS student chapters that are active and that submit annual reports to INFORMS, a society of over 10,000 professionals in operations research and the management sciences. Support for chapters is provided by INFORMS and the UMass Amherst Chapter, whose Faculty Advisor I have been since 2004, also garners additional support from my John F. Smith Memorial Funds, the Finance and Operations Management Department, and the Isenberg School of Management. The chapter attracts members from many departments and colleges at UMass, including the College of Engineering, the Computer Science Department, and the Economics Department.

The professional society INFORMS has materials on how to organize and run a student chapter and our first Chapter President, Dr. Tina Wakolbinger, was one of the co-authors of the chapter guidelines handbook.

In short, it is very important to have a solid, energetic, and committed group of students as officers and as members. It is also very important to have valuable activities, a well-maintained and updated website, frequent news and announcements, and support from the Faculty Advisor and other faculty. Staff members at the institution also play an important role since they may handle the receipts and payments for speakers, events, etc.

What the students gain by belonging to a student chapter: networking opportunities through the speakers who come to campus as well as through their colleagues and fellow members, leadership opportunities through experiences as chapter officers, membership in the larger community of INFORMS, and friendships that last even after they graduate. Indeed, how many acknowledgments in the doctoral dissertations have I read that thank fellow students and chapter members!

Membership in a student chapter creates synergies, memories, professional gains, as well as lasting friendships and support.

When last semester, due, in part, to the economic crisis and drops in endowments, it appeared that I would not be able to contribute any funding towards the speaker series, one of the chapter's premier activities, the void that would have been created was noted by students and numerous faculty as well as administrators throughout campus! We thank those that interceded so that the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter could continue its fantastic activities! In the past 5 years, this chapter's members have garnered the following recognitions from INFORMS: the Judith Liebman Award in 2006 awarded to Dr. Tina Wakolbinger, the Moving Spirit Award given to me in 2007, the summa cum laude award and the magna cum laude award received by the chapter in the past two years!

Plus, we have all learned a tremendous amount and have built an incredible esprit de corps!

We thank all of our supporters and we congratulate the chapter on the success of its past 5 years!