Wednesday, September 28, 2016

INFORMS History and Traditions -- Why Operations Research Is Fascinating

I was honored to be appointed to the INFORMS (Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences) History and Traditions Committee and will be serving on this committee through 2018.

The committee is a wonderful group of Operations Research /Management Science scholars and includes also a historian of science, Dr. Will Thomas. We had hosted Will at the Isenberg School of Management back in 2005 in our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series, when he was a doctoral student at Harvard University. He is the author of a recent book,published by MIT Press. Also, on the committee is Dr. Irv Lustig, who was an undergraduate in Applied Math at Brown University when I was a PhD student there and I was his TA for a course taught by my dissertation advisor, Professor Stella Dafermos. Irv went on to get his PhD at Stanford University and his dissertation advisor was none other than a giant of Operations Research, Professor George Dantzig, whose research and mentorship and friendship helped to build the great community of INFORMS, as well as its predecessors, ORSA and TIMS.  Irv spoke in our Speaker Series in the Spring of 2006. That year I was a Fellow at the Radcliffe Institute for Advanced Study at Harvard and still managed to help the students organize the Speaker Series and to come back on Fridays to support them. Dantzig passed away in May 2005 at age 90. There is a memorial site in his honor.

Dr. Mark Eisner of Cornell University has chaired this committee for the past three years and his energy and ideas as well as leadership is making a log of exciting things happen in preserving our history and also providing exceptional resource and educational materials about our field. Also, and this I find to be something quite special, Mark knew Stella when she was a postdoc at Cornell University, after receiving her PhD from Johns Hopkins in Operations Research, and before coming to Brown University.

Also on the committee are luminaries of Operations Research who are household names: Dr. Arjang Assad, Dr. Art Geoffrion, Dr. John D.C. Little, and Dr. Shaler Stidham Jr.

When I teach my classes I always include stories of individuals who have been instrumental in the development of the various topics and even include photos of the personages in my lecture slides. I think that it is very important that students know and can visualize who made the scientific discoveries, whether in terms of a methodology, an algorithm, or a very cool application. I have been lucky that through our professional societies that I have been able to meet many of the shining stars, starting when I was a graduate student. I think that meeting people whose work inspires you brings a humanity to the research and also motivates you. Plus, you can learn so much from such people in terms of professional development, if you just ask.

A wonderful contribution to the INFORMS History and Tradition webpages are the compilations of the oral histories. I have been enjoying viewing and learning from them immensely. Listening to the words of wisdom is making history of our field come alive and it also helps to preserve it. Right now all the interviews are with males so I am doing my best to get more female operations researchers featured. I know that several additional interviews are planned even for the INFORMS Conference in Nashville this coming November.

And speaking of leadership in Operations Research, I urge you to visit the Miser-Harris Presidential Portrait Gallery, where the Presidents of ORSA, TIMS, and, INFORMS are featured a long with links to their biographies. The gallery is named after Professors Hugh Miser and Carl Harris and Hugh was a Professor at UMass Amherst for several years but before I joined the faculty. All the Presidents of TIMS were male. There was only one female President of ORSA and that was Dr. Judith Liebman, who was a contemporary doctoral student of Stella  Dafermos' at Johns Hopkins. Several of my doctoral students have received the Judith Liebman Award from INFORMS for their activities with our award-winning UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter. I am delighted that there have been 7 female Presidents of INFORMS, which is fabulous. Dr. Robin Keller, the President before Dr. Ed Kaplan, has also been taking part in our committee teleconferences, as well as Melissa Moore, the Executive Director of  INFORMS and Mary Magrogan, INFORMS Director of Membership, Subdivisions & International Activities.

I urge you to visit the INFORMS History and Traditions pages. I find the personal memoirs also very informative and inspiring. More information on the committee and its activities can be found in the article written by Assad and Eisner. A guided tour of the website is provided in an article written by Mark that appeared in OR/MS Today.

The biographical profiles of those who have made significant contributions to our field and were born before the end of World War II are also very interesting to read. And, of course, the list of Nobel Laureates in Economic Sciences with OR affiliations and contributions is also very worthwhile to peruse and among those listed I note that dozens of my papers have cited the work of John Nash.

INFORMS will be redesigning its website and I hope that we can feature the information associated with the History and Traditions more directly and prominently. Also, INFORMS is looking for a part-time student website intern to assist in the enhancement of the web site devoted to the history of Operations Research. The intern would work from his or her home location via email at the direction of members of the History and Traditions Committee of INFORMS, the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences. If you may be interested or know of someone who may be, please let me or any of the committee members know. Thanks!

Actually, visiting the site and serving on this committee is sometimes like a walk down Memory Lane and I conclude this blogpost with a photo taken of me and Professor George Dantzig, way back when, at an ORSA conference in San Francisco.