Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An Invitation I Could Not Refuse and My First Fulbright

Recently I received an invitation to give an invited lecture that I simply could not turn down. Professor Manfred Fischer of the Institute for Economic Geography and GIScience at the Vienna University of Economics and Business Administration, which was ranked in the top twenty schools of economics in Europe by the Financial Times, extended the invitation. Professor Fischer is a Regional Science Association International (RSAI) Fellow and a marvelous scholar and gentleman. Given the audience, the location, and the venue, I accepted the invitation and will be speaking there in mid-March. Vienna is one of the most glorious cities on this earth and several of my family members have lived there. Although I had had a Distinguished Chaired Fulbright in Innsbruck, Austria, I had never visited this grand city filled with incredible architecture, museums, parks, history, and music!

During my Fulbright in Innsbruck, Austria, which took place March -July 2002, I taught at the SOWI Business School at the University of Innsbruck. Innsbruck is magical and words cannot describe the magnificence of the mountains, the nature, the Inn River, and the downtown, including the Old Town. Some photos from Innsbruck during this Fulbright capture the magic but we have heard that the house that we lived in (with a view of the 1964 Olympic ski jump) has been torn down. Its address was 94 Schneeburgasse. Of course, before traveling to Vienna, I will stop by Innsbruck to reconnect with those that made my family and me feel so welcome during that Fulbright experience, which, simply put, was heaven on earth.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Dr. Ellis Johnson from Georgia Tech Speaks

Yesterday, February 20, 2009, Professor Ellis Johnson of Georgia Tech kicked off our Spring UMass Amherst Speaker Series in Operations Research / Management Science. His talk on airline challenges and operations research attracted faculty, students, and administrators from the Isenberg School of Management, the College of Engineering, the Department of Economics, and even from the University of Vermont in Burlington! Professor Johnson is the recipient of every major INFORMS prize for his research contributions. Before joining the faculty of Georgia Tech he was with IBM for 26 years where he rose to the rank of IBM Corporate Fellow. He is also a member of the National Academy of Engineering.

Professor Johnson's talk centered on the challenges of cost reduction in the airline industry with a focus on reducing fuel costs. He compared fuel consumption of various jets, including executive jets, who would fly into smaller airports. He also emphasized the importance of doing environmentally-based research surrounding airplanes and talked about how ahead of the US Europe is in this dimension. He discussed high-speed trains in Europe and the potential/promise of such trains in the US. He had so much to report because of his extensive research contributions to airline transportation, including his work for Sabre and American Airlines, and knowledge. We did not have much time to hear about his work on airline security as well as passenger rage and passenger bills of rights, topics, which he had hoped to also be able to address, but time ran out.

After his presentation, we took Professor Ellis Johnson to lunch at the University Club on the UMass Amherst campus, which is in a building that dates to 1728 (but the food does not). We spoke about his travels to China and Thailand and about luminaries in the field of Operations Research/Management Science. We did not want the lunch to end. As one of the doctoral students said afterwards, the greatest people are also the nicest.

The UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter has posted some photos from Dr. Johnson's visit to Amherst. I leave you with some pearls of wisdom from him. We asked him for advice to students so that they would be successful professionally and he offered the following:

1. be a problem solver,

2. collaborate, and

3. teach others.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Research, Scholarship, and Mentoring

I remember when I was an Assistant Professor and would ask senior faculty during conferences whether they had any advice for me. Time and time again, I would hear that one should develop and educate students since they would become one's network and colleagues in the future. I took that advice to heart and nothing gives me greater pride than comments and compliments from colleagues as to the mark that some of my former students (either undergraduate or graduate, including doctoral ones) have made. Obviously, not everyone can "make it" since sometimes life interferes and not everyone is made for the time and effort and work involved that academia, in particular, demands.

Professor Bin Jiang of DePaul University in Chicago took on the challenge of identifying "stellar scholars" in the field of Production and Operations Management, as evidenced by citations to their research. He then went further and asked them numerous questions regarding how to identify important problems and how to conduct research. The result was a paper on how to do research, which has very valuable advice. This article was published online in the Foum of the Journal of Operations Management. It was an honor to be included in the group of stellar scholars.

Speaking of "mentoring," UMass Amherst was the recipient of a grant from the Mellon Foundation, to establish a Mutual Mentoring Initiative and more advice and information can be obtained from the website where a very nice photo of some of my former students can also be found.

Monday, February 16, 2009

New Isenberg School Website

While I was in Dallas, the Isenberg School of Management (ISOM) at UMass Amherst, where I teach, unveiled its new website. It is larger and easier to navigate than the previous one. Plus, it contains information about both upcoming events and news. We are in the midst of searching for a new Dean and also recruiting new doctoral students so the redesigned website should be helpful in both dimensions. ISOM is a fantastic place to teach and do research. It is located in the Pioneer Valley of western Massachusetts, which is home to the Five Colleges and several neighboring colleges. Our students are very bright, hard-working, and very professional. Interdisciplinarity is valued, which makes for a very rich intellectual environment.

This coming Friday, we will be hosting Professor Ellis Johnson of Georgia Tech, who will be speaking in our Spring 2009 Speaker Series in Operations Research / Management Science. His topic will be major airline challenges, a topic very close to home, especially given the horrific crash of the Continental commuter plane last Thursday in Buffalo. I was flying that day to Dallas through Philly on USAir commuter planes. The first leg was incredibly bumpy and I engaged the stewardess in conversation since I was seated in the first row of the plane. We talked about the USAir plane that landed in the Hudson and the bravery of the pilots and crew and the travelers. She told me how those who were in the back of that plane sustained more severe injuries. Who was to know that that very same day, February 12, 2009, a crash would cost the lives of 49 on the Continental commuter plane from Newark to Buffalo with one life lost on the ground (in the house that the plane crashed into with the wife and daughter escaping). Our hearts go out to all the families of those who lost their lives in such a horrible tragedy. Matt Wald (who happens to be a classmate of mine from Brown University days) reported on the crash for the New York Times, from Amherst, NY.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Dallas, INFORMS Lecture, and Making it Just-in-Time

The phone call from USAir came at 4AM yesterday morning -- my 9:30AM flight to DC was cancelled and I was rebooked on the 11:30AM flight to Dallas through Philly with a scheduled arrival time in Dallas at 5:09PM. This was cutting it unnervingly close for my talk which was scheduled for 7PM at Southern Methodist University (SMU), which, for those of you who may have noticed, would be 8PM, my body time. My talk at SMU was being hosted by the Dallas / Fort Worth INFORMS Chapter. The President of the Chapter is Dr. Tim Jacobs of American Airlines and the Vice President is Dr. Patricia Neri, who also handled the arrangements for me. With an audience of professionals from the Dallas area in banking, airlines, etc., and faculty and students from SMU and area colleges and universities I very much wanted to give my talk, "Synergies and Vulnerabilities of Supply Chain Networks in a Global Economy." The first leg of the journey went well and then we sat on the tarmac in Philly for a good 45 minutes and I had the feeling that I would not make it on time for my lecture. Luckily, I had a wonderful companion next to me, a female medical doctor, so some of the time could be spent in very enjoyable conversation.

Amazingly, we arrived in Dallas only 5 minutes late. I grabbed a Whopper from Burger King, something I had not eaten since my daughter was very young, and it was good! After a quick change into a professional suit in the ladies room I ran to catch a cab and had a delightful driver with an accent I could not identify who also had no idea as to where the Trigg Center, the venue for my talk, at SMU was located. Experiencing riding in the HOV lane was fun and the taxi moved smoothly past hundreds of cars, each with only a single driver. The infrastructure was quite good in Dallas and no potholes were experienced. We made it to the SMU campus at about 6:45 and after asking 4 students, found one who knew where the Trigg Center was. I got dropped off, and marched to my speaking venue with my talk on a pendrive. Luckily, two graduate students helped me to set up and the talk went on at about 7:10PM only to finish at about 8:40PM. The discussion afterwards was great and there was even a faculty member in the audience who had gone to Brown University, my alma mater, and had majored in Applied Math and had had my thesis advisor, Professor Stella Dafermos.

We made it back to the hotel at almost 11PM Dallas time. The flights this morning on USAir from Dallas to Bradley (Springfield/Hartford) through Charlotte were both early, which was great, although the shock of 30 degree temps versus almost 70 degrees in Dallas, was eye-opening. My seat-mate this time around was a financial advisor who was a fan of OSU basketball, and their coach is now Travis Ford, who left UMass last year.

I'd like to thank my hosts in Dallas for a very pleasant experience! The Radisson hotel there was also terrific and so quiet!

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Science and Research Funding

Dr. Stephen Quake, a professor of bioengineering at Stanford University, wrote a guest column on the New York Times "Judson" blog this past week. In his column, "Letting Scientists off the Leash," he describes the specific challenges of securing grants for scientific research from funding agencies. Many of his points, from the time that writing proposals consumes, to the need for innovative approaches to funding the most original and pioneering scientific research, clearly resonated with the readers of the column. His writeup also made an impact on me and pushed me to comment about some of my own experiences, both successes and failures, in securing grants from funding agencies. You can read my comment -- it is number 16 and follows Dr. Quake's guest column in the NYTimes. Continue reading further the comments of hundreds that wrote in.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Optimal Banner Advertising on the Web

In today's, February 9, 2009 New York Times, Richard Perez-Pena writes a very interesting article about how the Times hopes to survive the recession. Towards the end of the article the issue of how to generate revenue via advertising on the web comes up and Kelly Twohig is quoted, "we have a glut of unsold" space on webpages and "It's about understanding, really, the efficacy of ads..."

Interestingly, and, coincidentally, a team of three female researchers: Dr. Lili Hai, Dr. Lan Zhano, and Dr. Anna Nagurney, with backgrounds, respectively, in computer science, applied mathematics and operations research / management science, have completed a report on how to exploit statistical techniques and optimization in order to design optimal web banners for advertising purposes. Our article develops a rigorous methodology as to how data can be gathered and then exploited so that optimal ads are designed on webpages. Needless to say, the timing of this research report is exciting and, who knows, perhaps the New York Times can make use of it!

I/we can't imagine a world without the New York Times!

Friday, February 6, 2009

Upcoming Travel and Hosting Speakers

As the new semester is gearing up, it is exciting to be able to both travel to give talks as well as to host speakers. Next week, I will be flying to Dallas, Texas, to give a talk, "Synergies and Vulnerabilities of Supply Chain Networks in a Global Economy." I will be hosted by the Dallas/Forth Worth Chapter of INFORMS (The Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences). My gracious host will be Dr. Patricia Neri, who works for Southwest Airlines. The talk will take place at Southern Methodist University.

The following week, we will begin our Spring 2009 Speaker Series in Operations Research / Management Science at the Isenberg School of Management at UMass Amherst. Our first speaker, on Friday, February 20, 2009, will be Professor Ellis Johnson of Georgia Tech, who will be talking about Operations Research and Air Traffic Problems. We are delighted that Professor Johnson, who is a member of the National Academy of Engineering, will be inaugurating out Spring Series! UMass Amherst has issued a press release for the series. This will be the tenth semester of this Speaker Series which is organized by the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter. I serve as the chapter's Faculty Advisor and it is so rewarding to see the enthusiasm of the students in this endeavor. The series adds so much to the intellectual life of the school and university and the students can hardly wait for it to start!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Being Thanked in the Top Physics Journal

One of the truly gratifying aspects of being a Professor is having students that have graduated write back and stay in touch. Last semester, one of my former undergrads, who had taken my transportation & logistics class, brought to my attention a paper that had been published in the top journal in physics, known as "Phys. Rev. Letters." What amazed this graduate of our Operations Management program at the Isenberg School of Management was that he understood the material and much of it was familiar. News about this article, entitled, "The Price of Anarchy in Transportation Networks: Efficiency and Optimal Control," [Phys.Rev.Lett. 101,128701(2008)] had gone viral with articles appearing in The Economist, the Boston Globe, and the New York Times.

After reading the article it became clear to me that many references were missing and, in scholarship, it is imperative to do a thorough literature search, which establishes precedence. Towards that end, with my husband, who has a PhD in physics, we wrote a response documenting some of the major relevant milestones in transportation network research that should have been included in the article. The rebuttal was not published but, lo and behold, this week there is an errata by the authors in Phys. Rev. Letters {Phys. Rev.Lett. 102, 049905 (2009)], which thanks us and includes some of our suggested references. We are pleased that the authors now understand that science moves forward by standing on the shoulders of giants.

The original article had also motivated my Letter to the Editor to The Economist.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

They are Back!

The Bement School 9th graders returned last night around 9PM from their service trip to the La Suiza orphanage in the Dominican Republic, only 2 hours or so late, after an unplanned delay at immigration at the JFK airport since one girl's passport and papers were being challenged. Given numerous stories from colleagues and friends about their misadventures at immigration at JFK, the parents of the travelers breathed a big sigh of relief, when we were finally notified that the student group of 20 and their teachers and coaches could proceed through!

When the 9th graders arrived back to Old Deerfield they were welcomed by parents and the excitement of all at the reunion was palpable. What the "Bementers" accomplished in less than a week is amazing -- they built bookshelves at the orphanage, painted what has now become a library and study area, and designed and painted a big mural. Most importantly, they played with the orphans (45 boys in all), carried the younger ones around, since they blossom with the attention, and organized games of basketball, soccer, and baseball. They played checkers with the children, shared books and toys with them, including hula hoops, climbed mango trees, and communicated with one another as only children can -- with hugs and laughter. They also accompanied the older ones to their school down the hill. The Bementers also helped the staff with dish washing and volunteered to do so since the orphanage is so short-staffed.

The fact that few of the 9th graders knew much, if any Spanish, did not matter!

As my daughter said, upon her return, "We had no TVs, no radios, no Internet, and no watches - time just stood still and it did not matter. It was so wonderful!" The food was delicious - pineapples, eggs, chicken, and rice -- the chickens ran freely there!" "We would help putting the little ones to bed and they even prayed for us." "Every night we collapsed to sleep in our large dormitory rooms, girls in one room and boys in another." "There was no hot water in the showers and sinks and we had fun brushing out teeth, sometimes outside." "Mom, you must do something about the traffic in the Dominican Republic, though, since there are no double yellow lines on the roads and the bus rides were interesting."

When my daughter entered our home late last night she ran up to the bathroom and said that she needed time to just stare and appreciate the bathroom amenities, and especially the shower stall.

One wonders whether $$$ sent to such an orphanage might result in physical improvements but, at the same time, the human contact and shared experiences among the students of the US and those at La Suiza may inspire dreams, which may be more fundamental and lasting. Clearly, a way in which to improve and sustain both the physical and educational infrastructure at the orphanage along with more face-to-face support and kindness plus enriching experiences would be ideal.

Such a trip that the Bement 9th graders experienced, with some associated possible risks, builds not only character, but also empathy, discipline, and appreciation. We hope that it is just the beginning of helping to construct an environment in which those who need it most can enjoy their childhoods, knowing that others care, and the process of growing up.