Sunday, October 28, 2018

Marking the Retirement of a Great Isenberg School Finance Colleague - Professor Ben Branch

Last evening we had the honor of taking part in the retirement party of my Isenberg School of Management Finance colleague, Professor Ben Branch. The reception and dinner took place at the Marriott Center at the UMass Amherst Campus Center.

Professor Ben Branch, who received his PhD from the U. of Michigan in 1970,  has been on the Isenberg School faculty since 1975 and he is still teaching a class this semester. He is renowned for his work on investments and bankruptcy. In 2007, I had nominated him for the UMass Amherst Faculty Distinguished Lectureship, which he received. He and I were one of the very few Isenberg School faculty recognized in this wonderful way.

The evening was a fitting tribute to a true "gentleman-scholar," one who arrived at his office at 6:30AM, sometimes with his dog, and whose kindness helped to support multiple faculty and not only in his Finance Department. Professor Branch I had met when I was interviewed at UMass and he was one of about 20 faculty that attended my interview at the Lord Jeffery Inn in Amherst. 
When my daughter was born, he and his wife were among the first to come visit us in our hone to celebrate. He is always very dapper, and, in his wardrobe, he has about 40 bowties, so yesterday, as a tribute, my husband also wore one in his honor.
When I joined the faculty at the Isenberg School, our department was the Department of General Business and Finance, so my Finance colleagues were always there for me. The department has gone through various renamings and now we are two departments; Finance Department and the Operations and Information Management Department. Several present and former chairs of these departments also came to pay tribute including: Professors Iqbal Ali, Sanjay Nawalkha, and Nelson Lacey, who was a terrific Master of Ceremonies.
In the above photos are: Professor Ali, my husband and I, Finance colleagues: Professors Fousseni Chabi-Yo, Mila Sherman (the first female Full Professor in Finance, who acknowledged Ben's support, and Nikos Artavanis, who traveled from Virginia Tech for the retirement party, where he is now a Visiting Professor. We saw him last week in Blacksburg!
Joining the bowties in the above photo is Professor Hossein Kazemi, the Director of CISDM.

Several retired faculty (including Professors Charlie Schewe and Tony Butterfield) showed up to honor Ben as well as faculty and staff from other departments, including Professors Easwar Iyer and  Jennifer Merton, which was wonderful. Our Interim Dean, Tom Moliterno spoke, as did Professor Hossein Kazemi, who gave a hysterical rendition of how he was interviewed by Ben and got the job (and we had a walk down memory lane with both Dr. Alex Barges and Dr. Craig Moore mentioned). Several of his former doctoral students also came, including one who traveled all the way from California to honor his dissertation advisor. Professor Branch shared with us how proud he is of his former doctoral students. I enjoyed Professor Larry Zacharias' tribute very much. He noted not only Professor Branch's intellect and his interests in politics, but also how he studied astronomy and very early in the morning (about 3AM) he would go to observe and visit the beavers close to his home.
Professor Nelson Lacey presented the honoree with a gift.

Professor Branch wanted to have the last words and they were very touching, emphasizing the long way that our business school has come since his arrival over four decades ago. In the 1970s there was even a typing pool and computing was done with the use of punch cards.

Ben loves my borshcht, so in honor of him I have a huge pot on now and he and his family are welcome any time.

Thank you, Professor Ben Branch, for being such a special colleague of so many of us over so many years! You will always be a part of the Isenberg School of Management.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Serving Distressed Individuals: Fabulous Talk by Professor Priyank Arora on Assisting Nonprofits in Decision-Making

Last Friday we had the pleasure of hearing Dr. Priyank Arora, our newest Operations and Information Management colleague at the Isenberg School, speak in our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series. His talk was entitled: Serving Distressed Individuals: Balancing Advisory and Delivery Efforts in Nonprofits. This series in organized by the UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter, which I have had the pleasure of serving as the Faculty Advisor of, since its inception in 2004.

The audience consisted of faculty and students from the Isenberg School, the UMass Amherst College of Engineering, as well as several representatives from the nonprofit community. This was the first talk in our Speaker Series of the new academic year and we were all very much looking forward to it! I had the pleasure of welcoming the audience and also introducing the new roster of UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter Officers.  This student chapter will be recognized with its 12th consecutive national award from its parent society, INFORMS at the Phoenix conference next month.
The new Chapter President, Katerina Deliali, then made the formal introduction of our speaker.
Professor Arora began his lecture with an overview of his research interests and showed us the United Nations' goals. I very much like that he said that, when in comes to social and environmental decision-making, "everyone needs to do their part."  He became interested in assisting nonprofits via modeling and enhanced decision-making through a nonprofit in Houston, Daya, which serves South Asian families in crises. The nonprofit began with handling 10 telephone calls a month and now responds to 6,000 calls a year. He noted that there are different complex needs of the clients and different services required, both of which may be challenging to determine. He was particularly interested in teasing out the operational challenges. He also discussed another nonprofit - Georgia Works, which serves homeless males in Georgia and tries to get them work. Organizations have to serve in an interpretive role as to what their clients need and are severely resource constrained.
He considers the objective function to be: to maximize the societal impact, and his model(s) investigate the trade-offs between advisory and service delivery under resource constraints.  I very much liked that he emphasized that it is not a matter of product delivery, as would be the case in certain disaster relief situations and other nonprofit applications,  but it is a matter of quantifying the effort in terms of different services - where should the effort be placed? He quoted Mr. Bill McGahan of Georgia Works as saying: "Each client is a mystery. Intake process is crucial to help figuring out details later on." He discussed an analytical model in which there are two types of clients and two types of services. His analyses strongly suggest that in highly resource constrained nonprofits, providing guidance is the way to go. If you have a high number of a certain type of client, then provide that needed service. If you have scalability - go with service.

I also very much appreciated the following quote that he shared with us, attributed to Hannah Lee, of First Step: "We can save nobody, if we try to save everybody."

He discussed numerous fascinating possible extensions of his research, which was conducted with two faculty members at Georgia Tech, his alma mater - such as asymmetry in clients; asymmetry in services, and also earmarked funding. The latter I got quite excited about because of the work in that area by two of my former doctoral students, Professors Tina Wakolbinger and Fuminori Toyasaki.

I took a group photo of those who were still enjoying discussions after his talk and then it was time to host the lunch at the University Club. We talked so much and were quite hungry so I did not take any photos at mealtime. Also, I had to head to the airport (quite the regular activity for me) to catch flights to Virginia Tech.
We thank Professor Arora for his very inspiring talk. Great to see such research being conducted at business schools!

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Smart Cities Analytics - A Terrific Workshop In Canada

When the invitation came from Professor Joe Naoum-Sawaya of the Ivey Business School at Western University (formerly Western Ontario University) in London, Ontario, Canada, I was very intrigued. He and his colleague, Professor Bissan Ghaddar, were organizing a Workshop on Smart Cities Analytics, and might I be interested in speaking?

The invitation was quickly accepted and this past Thursday, after teaching my Transportation and Logistics class, I was off to Bradley Airport for my flights on Air Canada to Toronto and then to London (London, Ontario, that is)! The flights on the puddle jumpers were surprisingly very comfortable and I had a delightful conversation on the first leg with a mother, originally from Jamaica, who was traveling with her 7 month old daughter. She had been to visit her 90 year old grandmother in Connecticut and is still fostering children - she has fostered over 100. Hearing about such exceptional human beings is always a wonder of travel.

Having been to England in September for the OR60 conference and the Early Career Researcher Workshop at Lancaster to speak, I appreciated the big welcome sign at the London, Ontario airport (never to be confused with Heathrow but there is a Tim Horton's there). It was my first time to the Ivey School and London, Ontario.

The logistics of my travel were expertly organized with a pickup at the airport. The London Park Hotel, where the workshop guest speakers were accommodated, provided me with a suite which looked more like an apartment - I loved it! Given that I was in Canada, the next morning, I got to see many young hockey players at breakfast who were in town with their families for a tournament. Last Monday was Canadian Thanksgiving so many had a week holiday.

It was thrilling to see the guest speakers at the workshop and the participants. The Ivey School, the site of the workshop, is in a stunning building.

As you can see from the above workshop poster, the speakers traveled from France, Denmark, Ireland, and the US, with one local speaker, for the workshop, which clearly demonstrates the excitement surrounding the theme of the workshop. The full schedule with the talk titles and abstracts can be downloaded here. 

The format of the workshop was excellent, with 45 minute talks and time for discussion. Lunch was also provided as well as refreshments at breaks and registration was free, thanks to the sponsors. The audience consisted of faculty and students from the host university and neighboring universities, including the University of Waterloo (my host for my previous speaking engagement at a Canadian university). I admit, since I was born in Canada, I like to support my Operations Research and Management Science colleagues in Canada and it is a pleasure to do so.

The workshop began with a welcome and opening remarks by Professor Naoum-Sawaya and an Associate Dean at Ivey.

Thanks to Professor Joe Naoum-Sawaya for letting me be the first speaker. As promised to participants, I have posted my talk.

My talk was based on two earlier papers of mine: Design of Sustainable Supply Chains for Sustainable CitiesAnna Nagurney, Environment & Planning B 42(1): (2015) pp 40-57 and Supply Chain Network Sustainability Under Competition and Frequencies of Activities from Production to Distribution,  Anna Nagurney, Min Yu, and Jonas Floden, Computational Management Science 10(4): (2013) pp 397-422.

After the coffee break, it was time for Professor Ivana Ljubic to speak on Very Large Scale Covering Location Problems in the Design of Advanced Metering Infrastructure. Professor Ljubic is a Professor at ESSEC in France.

Her talk focused on smart metering and the Internet of Things (IoT) and the challenges posed by the limitations of current infrastructure. She described elegant models that she had constructed for related facility location problems to determine where to place bay stations for wireless communications to cover homes with the consideration of an investment budget or a percentage of demand coverage.  The exact algorithms that she presented, along with extensive computational results, on truly large-scale problems, were very elegant and impressive.
Professor Ljubic, who is very active on Twitter and is a jet-setter, and we enjoy communicating in this way, told me that she had met me at the Computational Management Science (CMS) conference in Vienna, Austria in 2010, so I promised her that I would try to retrieve some photos from that conference and I have posted them below - even with my former doctoral student, Tina Wakolbinger, who is now a Professor at the Vienna University of Economics and Business!
Professor Pierre Pinson of the Technical University of Denmark, who is French, presented a talk on Community-Based and Peer-to-Peer Electricity Markets, in which he shared with us that Copenhagen is planning on being carbon-neutral by 2050. He also told us that Denmark produces the cheapest electric power in Europe but, after taxes, it is the most expensive. He suggested that governments may need to rethink taxes in terms of social responsibility with taxes being a function of distance. He emphasized the purchasing of electricity locally and discussed consensus-based optimization with fascinating reciprocity constraints. He described how individuals have self-interest with interest to collaborate locally and how exchanges within a community do not have to be settled with monetary compensation. He also emphasized the construction of a social welfare function and the cost of a social construct with a community wanting to be as autonomous as possible. Professor Pinson further elaborated on networks of communities for urban design and mentioned blockchains and possible coordination mechanisms.He told us that "we need to change the game" and need new business models.

I thoroughly enjoyed his very thought-provoking presentation and told him that I will be reading his papers!
Then it was time for lunch and further stimulating conversations and discussions. Another special highlight for me was seeing Professor Hani S. Mahmassani, the Director of the Transportation Center at Northwestern University. Just to further emphasize how much I respect Professor Mahmassani, I even had a photo of him in my presentation that morning. Hani, if I may, is a true scholar and leader in transportation, one who not only does outstanding research but also parlays his work into practice with high impact. And, to further celebrate his accomplishments, in the introduction to his talk, Professor Naoum-Sawaya shared with us (I also heard this great news at lunch) that Professor Mahmassani has been appointed to the Advisory Board for Smart Cities for Monaco and also to the Advisory Board for the Panama Canal. So, huge congratulations to him!
Professor Mahmassani's talk was entitled: Predictive Analytics for Real-time Urban Mobility: Autonomous, Connected, Electric, Shared (ACES).

 Professor Mahmassani took us on a vivid journey of the state-of-the-art of his topic and described several key takeaways, overviewing connected vehicles (when and in what form and at what rate); major disruptive influences from technology to players; shared mobility fleets; why we still need predictive models even if we may be able to ultimately see the state of the transportation system at all times, and how transportation agencies must be willing to embrace change. He emphasized how autonomous, connected vehicle ideas have evolved from ITS with one of the goals being to eliminate or to reduce human errors. He spoke on connected systems that should be coordinated, with "cooperative driving," optimized flow and routing. He also brought up, which he recognized that I would very much appreciate - that freight services might be managed in a system-optimized manner, whereas travelers even in shared, connected vehicles, might be (should be) routed in a user-optimized way. Such discussions I have had with the students in the Transportation and Logistics class that I teach at the Isenberg School. He also brought out that intelligence (think of Google) will reside in vehicles but what about the infrastructure that will be needed to operationalize connected, autonomous vehicles? He mentioned a report put out by his center on Mobility 2050 - Emerging Futures, definitely word reading.

Given the fascinating talks, I hope that the organizers will be able to post them and, frankly, I asked when will the next such workshop be because of the stimulating important issues and discussions from multiple very creative perspectives!

Professor Mahmassani's talk was followed by a talk from another Northwestern University Professor, Professor Chaithanya Bandi of the Kellogg School. Concidentally, both are MIT PhD alums, but of different programs. Dr. Bandi changed the title and topic of his presentation  and his talk was on: Data Driven Analytics for Government, with a focus on Singapore! I have been invited to Singapore but have not been there (yet) although my husband has and he did bring me some marvelous souvenirs from there. We were presented with numerous fascinating facts about Singapore including that 80% of the population lives in public housing. The government shares "Moments of Life" in which its citizens are congratulated for various milestones. Humans are considered "sensors" with even government-aided dating taking place. Singapore is focused on "customizable communities" and Dr. Bandi shared with us the cost/taxes of vehicle ownership in Singapore. He then described some research that he has been involved in regarding hospital staffing and patient flows - data-rich but an uncertain environment. He also mentioned his work on LEGO Networks with Itai Guravich in which subsystems are first optimized and the system is then built up.
Then Professor Xianbin Wang of the Electrical and Computer Engineering at the host university discussed his research with collaborators in the presentation: Technical Challenges and Business Opportunities of Ubiquitously Connected Society. He asked the question - what are we trying to solve through IoT and by connecting everything? He also mentioned 5G and ICT infrastructure needs associated with it. Some of his concerns include interoperability issues associated with IoT and how to create internetwork collaboration. It was good to hear him mention the increasing overhead associated with cybersecurity and the proliferation of devices and impacts on communications. He is a proponent of "Software Defined Networking (SDN) Enabled Synergistic Resource Sharing".

The final presenter, and he deserves extra applause, was Professor Robert Shorten of University College Dublin, who spoke on: Distributed Ledger Technology, Cyber-Physical Systems, and Social Compliance. He, in his talk, showed us a collage of photos of activities in cities, including one with a homeless person rummaging through the trash and asked us what we had observed. He had posted this photo to demonstrate that we do not enforce social contracts and people may be putting rubbish in the incorrect bins and, hence, not recycling, as they should be. The homeless person was performing a useful task for society. Professor Shorten then described how blockchain has a lot of potential for the enforcement of social contracts and noted that distributed ledger systems (DLTs) have operational costs that are low and fast transaction times. he also spoke about competitive versus collaborative DLTs. He presented an elegant graph model of DAGs (directed acyclic graph) with no transaction fees. Underlying his work are ordinary differential equations for which he has also conducted stability analysis. It was great to see that in my talk I had described a Nash Equilibrium model for sustainable supply chains, and Professor Shorten also had Nash Equilibrium in one of his slides. He spoke about the use of tokens for "the cost of misbehaving" as when one would drive through a red light, for example, and the use of DLTs would be anonymous (an audience member brought up the use of fines). It was very interesting to listen to him speak on how to design controls so as to incentivize people to behave as in being socially compliant in traffic, given the risk of getting caught. He also brought up "string stability," as in what happens downstream in other junctions of the network, if someone drive through a red light.

Since my cellphone was dying I apologize for not taking a photo of Professor Shorten and, instead, I share several photos below of the group of speakers, the group of Twitter users, and the females on Twitter!
Thanks, again, to the organizers, the guest speakers, and the terrific audience, for a fabulous idea-generating workshop!

Saturday, October 6, 2018

Great Time Speaking at the University of Michigan on Game Theory and Disaster Relief

I'd like to thank the INFORMS Student Chapter at the University of Michigan, its fabulous Chapter Officers and members, Professors Marina Epelman and Mariel Lavieri, and the INFORMS Speaker Program, for making my visit to the University of Michigan so memorable and wonderful! It was a pleasure to speak at the Department of Industrial and Operations Engineering (IOE).

I had been invited by the Chapter President, Gian-Gabriel Garcia, last Spring, and due to too many engagements at that time, we settled on the date of October 5 for my talk.

This was my first time at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor so I was very much looking forward to presenting my work on game theory network models for disaster relief.

The trip on Delta from Bradley airport to Detroit was smooth and comfortable (although for some reason I got assigned a middle seat), and I was picked up in a big black SUV limo at the airport and then driven to my hotel. The chauffeur had been to the UMass Amherst graduation in May 2018 with his children since he had a nephew graduating (and his niece also graduated from UMass Amherst) so this was clearly a good sign! He shared with me how his children enjoyed the delicious food at UMass (indeed, we have been ranked #1 in this dimension for three years in a row).

My hosts had organized a delightful schedule for me, beginning with a pickup yesterday morning by Professor Mariel Lavieri, and a session with interested students. I was actually speaking in their diversity seminar series.
The students, which included even an undergrad student, along with graduate students plus a graduate student who had driven from Wayne State University and was a UMass Amherst alum (rather wonderful, I must say), came up with individual questions that they were interested in my answers to and Professor Lavieri wrote them down on a white board as below.

The questions were excellent - professors could stay for the first 30 minutes and then were asked to leave so the students could engage in further discussions. The hour flew by much too quickly. It was a treat to meet face to face doctoral students that I had been following through Twitter: in addition to the Chapter President Gian-Gabriel Garcia, I met Emily Tucker,  Lauren Steimle, and Karmel Shehadeh and later in the day - Adam VanDeusen and Ann aWhite.

Then, after perhaps a 5 minute break, it was time for my seminar and I have posted my presentation slides here.

It was an honor to have Professor Brian Denton, the 2017 President of INFORMS, come to my talk. He is now the Chair of the IOE Department and I also had a chance to speak with him later in the afternoon..

Many thanks to Lauren Steimle for sharing the photos below.
During my talk I mentioned my new book, which had been shipped and was supposedly had been delivered to the Isenberg School according to the publisher, Springer, while I was in Michigan (still have not seen the hardcopy).

Lunch was delicious and was served in the IOE building, which has to be one of the most beautiful engineering buildings I have ever been in, complete with artwork and beautiful decorations plus views. Many alums were back for Homecoming events.
It was wonderful to also see Professors Amy Cohn, Romesh Saigal, and Stephen Pollock plus Professor Larry Seiford. Professor Seiford,  who had been a colleague of mine at UMass Amherst before going to NSF and then to the University of Michigan, treated me to a cappuccino that he made!
I had the pleasure of listening (while we ate lunch) to Dr. Robert Sargent of Syracuse University reflect on his career in simulation and he was given the alumni award from Professor Bran Denton.

After the Q&A I got to meet Professor Sargent's daughter, who works for Intel, and just happens to be a UMass Amherst alumna in Industrial Engineering & Operations Research.

It is quite a special, wonderful academic OR world, I must say.

Thanks also to Professors Siqian Shen and Ruiwei Jiang for a great conversation after the guest lecture.

It was hard to say good-bye because there was still so much to discuss and I thank the students that have reached out to me even after my return.

And, to make a perfect visit even more perfect, although my flight from Detroit was supposedly fully booked, I got switched to a comfort aisle seat from a middle seat and just behind business class - thank you, wonderful Delta agent! For those of you who have not been to the University of Michigan (I have quite a few colleagues and even neighbors with Michigan degrees), it is worth the trip. The Detroit Airport is also a hidden gem with great restaurants and shops and an elevated, quiet red tram zipping past the gates.

The present and future of Operations Research are in good hands with the outstanding student leaders and scholars at the Department IOE at the University of Michigan. I did miss not seeing Professor Mark Daskin, but he had told me while we were at CORS in Halifax last summer, that he would be on sabbatical, and Professor Jon Lee was away at the US Naval Academy.

Also, a BIG thanks to the staff of the Department of IOE for their hospitality and for making all the logistical connections for me.