Thursday, March 24, 2016

Why I Love Teaching at the Isenberg School of Management

Without students we would not have our great university. They drive us to do more as educators and scholars, provide feedback as to our progress, and make no two days of teaching ever alike! They make sure that we, as faculty, are constantly growing professionally, intellectually, and as educators.

Teaching is truly the best job in the world!

I would like to share with you a few stories of several of the students that I have taught at the Isenberg School. They also represent what is so special about our students – in terms of work ethic, intellectual curiosity, and creativity.
There is Christina Calvaneso, who graduated summa cum laude just over a decade ago. She was in the first cohort of the Leaders for the 21st Century Award recipients, an award that I nominated her for. Christina did an honors thesis and conducted research with me under an NSF REU grant at the Virtual Center for Supernetworks. Since graduation, she has worked for GE, Deloitte Consulting, and several startups in NYC. She continues to give back and was a speaker at our inaugural Women in Business conference. In June 2014, in Boston, she was honored with the Isenberg School's Young Alumna Business Leadership Award, which I nominated her for.

There is Jose M. Cruz, one of ten children, who was born in Cape Verde. Jose received 5 degrees from UMass Amherst, from 3 different colleges, including an MBA and PhD in Management Science
from the Isenberg School. I chaired his dissertation committee. His graduation story made the front page of the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Jose is now a tenured Associate Professor and award-winning teacher and scholar at the School of Business at the University of Connecticut. He is educating a new generation of students and his research on supply chain sustainability and corporate social responsibility is making a wide positive impact.

There is Stavros Siokos, who came to UMass from Greece and somehow made it, despite the fact that his application was initially lost. He received his PhD (I also chaired his PhD dissertation committee) and is now managing a fund of hedge funds in London valued at over $10 billion. He had met Mandela, knows Bill Clinton, and has shared stories about dining with world leaders on various continents. However, he tells people that his happiest days were when he was a student at UMass Amherst (a theme that I hear time and time again from other alums). With him, I co-authored the Financial Networks book.

And there is Longjie Dai, who received an undergraduate degree in Operations and Information Management a few years ago. After a stint in industry, he returned for his Master's degree at UMass. Longjie has an incredible curiosity and, a few years ago, I received an email message from him. He had been reading articles in major newspapers on a reported study on the Braess paradox in Boston and on tolls and said that he did not understand what was novel about this since he had learned about these in my Logistics and Transportation class. And, he was right! When I investigated the source on which this ”news” was based, I came upon an article in a major physics journal where proper attribution was not given to preceding research. I wrote a Letter to the Editor of the journal, and eventually an erratum was published by the authors of that article. I also wrote a Letter to the Editor of  The Economist, which was noted by the producers of the World Science Festival in NYC, who invited me to speak on the Traffic panel. All because of the curiosity, attention, and integrity of one of my former Operations and Information Management undergraduates at the Isenberg School!

Teaching at the university level is the greatest and noblest of professions. Every day we interact with students, both in and outside the classroom, to assist them in acquiring knowledge, supporting their interests and curiosity, and nurturing and mentoring them on their journeys in life and chosen professions. The exchanges with students are dynamic, energizing, and stimulating intellectually and lead to further knowledge discovery and the enrichment of education. The greatest rewards for a faculty member are when students tell you that the lecture or course changed her life; the student got
a dream job offer or got into a top graduate school (sometimes a few years after receiving the undergraduate degree) with the help of you as a reference. Students, even, upon graduation, never in a sense, leave us. They are always part of the Isenberg family and the communications and meaningful exchanges continue.

I love teaching my students, whether the students in my Logistics and Transportation class, my Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare class, or my advanced Management Science classes on Networks and Game Theory. I provide the students with the lecture notes and handouts since I believe in having the latest material available and incorporating many real-world cases and scenarios. The topics that I teach are updated every time the class is offered. For my graduate classes I use excerpts from books that I have authored as well as many research papers. In my Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare class I bring speakers from the community (and even from abroad) for students to learn from top practitioners. I also believe in field trips for various classes, which students very much appreciate (some have told me they never did this in any other class and they were seniors). The students are free to ask many questions in class and the discussions often continue well past class time. I am a very interactive educator. Homeworks are graded and returned promptly for feedback. I often provide students with opportunities for team-based projects which require field work.

The first course that I ever taught at the Isenberg School, which was an evening MIS course in the MBA program at Holyoke Community College, I remember fondly. There was a student in the class whose wit, energy, sense of humor, and intelligence stood out. His name was Kevin Koswick and I helped him to get him into our MBA program. He was only a bagger at that time at a local supermarket. Kevin is now an Executive Vice President at Ford Motor Company and he has visited me multiple times. He was thrilled when his daughter, Kelsey, got into Isenberg. She has since graduated and has her dream job with the Red Sox. As an educator, I feel it is very important to get to know my students on a personal basis. In that way, I can make sure that they are actively engaged in my classes. For 12 years now, I have been the Faculty Advisor of the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter, which has garnered 9 national awards from its parent society, INFORMS, for its various activities. I have helped the students bring close to 100 speakers to campus and have assisted financially in sponsoring their visits. Meeting top scholars and industry experts enhances networking opportunities for the students (undergrads and grad students) and also provides great professional opportunities for them which are long-lasting. I have also helped students in organizing (and have taken part) in many field trips for educational purposes. When a female student does not have proper clothing for a job interview, I have lent my suits. For my mentorship of students and leadership I received the  2007 WORMS (Women in Operations Research and the Management Sciences) Award from INFORMS.

I am very grateful that at the Isenberg School we get to teach classes on subjects that we are passionate about and also experts in. I have taught at MIT, at the University of Innsbruck in Austria on a Fulbright, at the Vienna University of Economics and Business, and also at the Royal Institute of Technology in Stockholm and at the University of Gothenburg in Sweden. At the Isenberg School, at both the undergraduate and the graduate levels, I make sure that the students are informed of the latest methodologies, applications, relevance to practice, and also challenges. For example, in the humanitarian logistics field, knowledge about best practices is continuing to evolve. In transportation, what will automated vehicles do to alleviating traffic congestion? I also share with students stories about the various developers of techniques and tools and bring the research papers and lectures to life. In my doctoral classes, students write research papers, some of which have led to journal articles. I have even had professors from other schools at UMass (Engineering and Computer Science) sitting in my classes and their work has been revolutionized from what they learned. I make learning fun but have very high standards. I want our students to be able to compete with graduates of top-ranked business programs globally.

I teach at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. I have been the chair of 18 doctoral student dissertation committees. Of these PhD graduates, 12 have already received promotion and tenure and 3 are now Full Professors. Two have top positions in industry. Many of my PhD students continue to collaborate through the Virtual Center for Supernetworks, which I founded in 2001, and which provides research and educational materials on networks, As part of the teaching mission, I also apply for research grants, including those from the National Science Foundation (NSF). This extra effort in grantsmanship has helped to provide additional support for both male and female students and also funds travel to conferences. I regularly nominate students for awards (both undergrads and graduate students). Through INFORMS, I continue to learn about different teaching techniques, especially in courses that are quantitative, and keep current. I also engage colleagues in conversations about teaching whenever I give invited seminars (recently at MIT and Yale). Our Operations and Information Management program and curriculum are gems and I am so happy to be part them