Saturday, April 27, 2019

It Was a Great Year for the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter!

It is hard to believe that I have been the Faculty Advisor to the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter for 15 years, which means 30 semesters of exciting activities, including our Speaker Series. Over the years we have hosted truly extraordinary speakers and luminaries in Operations Research / Management Science and in related fields and I am eternally grateful that the speakers have come to our campus to share with the students and audience members their expertise and collegiality.

Yesterday, we had the pleasure, as is our tradition, of hosting the end of the semester (which was the end of the academic year) party. The weather was ominous, with a lot of thunder and rain (including several downpours) in the afternoon and, given the logistics involved, of bringing all the food to the party (both hot and cold) too the Isenberg School of Management, I was a bit anxious. Also, with the weather being less than appealing, I was wondering whether students and faculty would show up. This Student Chapter attracts members not only from the Isenberg School of Management but also from the College of Engineering as well as from the College of Computer and Information Sciences at UMass Amherst (with the latter two being on the opposite side of campus from the Isenberg School).

The party was advertised through our email lists and even posted on the screens in the Isenberg School.

I had told the Chapter Officers that I would need assistance in helping me unload my van with the pierogies, kielbasy, and desserts, and they did not disappoint, bringing out umbrellas as well, when I arrived.
After parking my van, I entered the party venue at 4:45PM and was so happy to see that, despite the miserable weather, attendance was fabulous, with an alum even coming from Boston for the party,  an with an exchange student from France and a visiting PhD student from Florida, also joining us.

Since the students are studying and researching topics in operations research (and many are very much into logistics), they had budgeted nicely, and did the ordering and pickup and deliveries efficiently. The menu consisted of international cuisines, homemade food, pizza, chicken wings, fries, salads, and fruits. The food was great and the company and conversations even better!  I have been to about 60 of these parties by now, and, every time, I emerge energized and, frankly, thrilled by the fabulous community we have built. I also would like to thank the parent society INFORMS (Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences) for supporting student chapters nationally and even internationally (the Montreal one is amazing for example) through awards and some funds. Additional funds we work hard to acquire and I also provide funding since I very much believe in giving students leadership and networking opportunities and in building intellectual and social communities.
This year we hosted the following speakers: Professors Mike Knodler, Priyank Arora, Peter Haas, Aurora Liu, as well as Dr. Thiago Serra (soon to be a professor at Bucknell University) and Jurij Paraszczak of IBM. We heard about their fascinating research on topics ranging from traffic safety, serving distressed individuals, smart cities, knowledge networks, to machine leaning.  This semester, with the $62 million Business Innovation Hub completed for the Isenberg School, we have benefited from new rooms for the talks and events.

Also, a fabulous initiative that the students started and take part in as interviewers, videographers and editors, is interviews with the speakers. The edited interviews are then posted on the chapter's youtube channel.  There is excellent advice and pearls of wisdom in these, so do peruse.

This year, as the chapter's Faculty Advisor, I recognized, with framed certificates, the exceptional service of the Chapter Officers: Katerina Deliali (President), Mojtaba Salarpour (Treasurer and also expert videographer), Haris Sipetas (our amazing Webmaster who blogs each speaker with photos on the chapter website), Zhangchen Hu (Event Coordinator who posts our events on Isenberg and UMass websites), and Wei Wei (a first year doctoral student and Social Outreach officer who is always smiling).

Also, this year I did something different - four of our long-serving members and soon-to-be PhD alums, who were also all very active former Chapter Officers, were recognized with certificates as Lifetime Members of our Chapter! A special shoutout to Dr. Destenie Nock, soon to be joining the faculty of Carnegie Mellon University; to Dr. Pritha Dutta, off to be a faculty member at the Lubin School of Business at Pace University in NYC, and Ekin Koker - off to Phillips in Cambridge, MA, where he had interned last summer, and Rodrigo Mercado, who, like Ekin, will be defending his dissertation this summer. Destenie was behind the very successful STEM Slams which the chapter had organized several times. Pritha (my PhD student) was a former Chapter President, whose enthusiasm and positive outlook made every event brighter. Ekin redesigned the chapter website and provided so much support over his time as a PhD student at UMass and Rodrigo was our expert editor of the interview videos and so much more! The below photo, taken by my PhD student, Deniz Besik,  shows brilliantly what makes these four so special.
Below, thanks to Haris Sipetas, is a photo of Rodrigo being recognized with his Lifetime Membership Award.
Special thanks to the faculty who came to support the chapter and the students (and thanks also to those who were sorry that they could not make it because they were out of town at conferences, etc.): Professor Iqbal Ali of the Isenberg School, Professors Hari Balasubramanian, Chaitra Gopalappa, Ana Muriel and Associate Dean Erin Baker, as well as Professors Eleni Christofa and Eric Gozales, all of the College of Engineering.

It was wonderful to have special treats also made by Katerina Deliali (including salads and Greek halvah) and a yummy lemon cake by Deniz Besik.
Katerina had the honor of cutting the cake from Stop and Shop, whose worker strike (luckily) had just recently ended.

I noticed that many of our PhD students had grown beards over the winter and some faculty have had beards for a while.
 We also took a group photo, since it was getting late, as a lovely memento of a great time and year.
Thanks, everyone, for a terrific Operations Research / Management Science year at UMass Amherst. Best of luck with projects and exams to students and faculty with the grading. I look forward to seeing several of you receive your graduate diplomas next month in the graduation ceremonies at UMass Amherst!

Congratulations on all of your achievements and Thank You!