Monday, September 30, 2019

Fabulous Talk on Refugee Resettlement Optimization in Our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series

This past Friday, we had the pleasure of kicking off our academic year with the first talk in our UMass Amherst INFORMS Speaker Series. We were absolutely delighted to have Professor Andrew Trapp of the Foisie School of Business at WPI give the talk, "Placement Optimization in Refugee Resettlement."

The award-winning UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter helps me to organize this speaker series and this is the 31st consecutive semester of it!

I welcomed the audience and Professor Trapp and announced upcoming talks in our series this semester. Then, my doctoral student, Mojtaba Salarpour, who was elected this year's Chapter President, did a more formal introduction. 
Professor Trapp captivated us with facts, on a topic drawn from the news headlines, along with an elegant mathematical model, coupled with machine learning, that he has developed, in conjunction with collaborators at Oxford University in England and Lund University in Sweden, and with his doctoral student, who is pursing a PhD in data science at WPI, and who was in the audience! The model has been implemented and is being utilized in practice by an NGO, HIAS.

He emphasized how there are now 1.428 million in dire need and how the initial place really matters for refugee resettlement. Hence, it is very important to get the initial match right. Their software is called Annie MOORE, after Anna Moore, which, according to the nice press release, was an Irish woman who was the first recorded immigrant processed at Ellis Island in the late 1800s. Professor Trapp's research on this topic is funded by a major NSF grant. 

At present, noone asks refugees what they would like, and it has been largely a manual matching process in the US.  Case by case processing  excludes benefits for all refugees simultaneously. He even gave us a demonstration of the software, which was fascinating. It allows a lot of flexibility for practitioners. My most recent paper is on international human migration networks under regulations, so I was personally very interested in his talk! Moreover, I had the pleasure of speaking at Foisie last year, and we have hosted both Professor Renata Konrad and Professor Joe Sarkis of WPI in our Speaker Series. Plus, one of my former PhD students, Dr. Sara Saberi, is a colleague of theirs at Foisie.

It was very gratifying to have faculty and students (even undergraduates) from the Isenberg School of Management, from the College of Engineering, the College of information and Computer Sciences, as well as the Department of Mathematics/Statistics at UMass Amherst in the audience!

The audience was very engaged, asking questions both during the lecture and afterwards. I took the group photo below as a memento.

We spend a lot of time identifying excellent speakers on timely topics and Professor Trapp was truly fabulous!  After his mesmerizing talk, we had the pleasure of dining with him at the University Club, and we continued the discussions. 
Then it was time to conduct an interview with Professor Trapp, which he graciously agreed to, and which will be posted eventually on the chapter's youtube channel:, where interviews with other speakers over the past 2 years can be found (and the advice provided therein is excellent!).

We also presented Professor Trapp with a gift, courtesy of the Isenberg School, and, with deep appreciation, I followed up with a formal thank you letter that I also copied to top administrators at WPI. Although it was late in the day on Friday, I was impressed by the acknowledgments of receipt that I received.  Special thanks are also extended to the Chapter's wonderful webmaster and blogger, Haris Csipetas, who is a PhD student in Transportation at UMass Amherst; have a look at:

Wednesday, September 25, 2019

Fascinating Visit to KSE (Kyiv School of Economics) in Ukraine as an International Academic Board Member

Over a year ago I was invited to serve on the International Academic Board of the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) in Ukraine. I accepted this appointment enthusiastically since I believe that it is important to help to support education in economics and business in this unique country. Plus, it was a big honor to be appointed to this board, which includes faculty from the US, Canada, and Europe.
It was extra special to see Professor Larry Samuelson of Yale University on the board since both of us had a magical time as Visiting Fellows at All Souls College at Oxford University in 2016. Also, the Nobel laureate in Economics, Professor Roger Myerson of the University of Chicago, is also a member of the International Academic Board of KSE.

Last year, I Skyped into the board meeting, but, this year, I was determined to make my way to Kyiv. As another board member - Professor Charlie Becker of Duke University told me - it is very important to have one's physical presence there to offer insights, to take part in discussions, and to meet with students, faculty, and staff.

Now this was a bit of a logistical challenge, since the meetings were over the weekend and I teach Thursdays and Tuesdays and did not want to miss a class. So, last Thursday morning I taught my Transportation and Logistics class at the Isenberg School and then headed to Boston Logan airport for a Delta flight to Amsterdam and then onwards to Kyiv via KLM (I had hoped). Well, while we were still on the tarmac at Logan, a part of the engine arrived and was assembled and my window seatmate could see this being done. Two engine checks were successful, so off we went on a "maiden" voyage, with a delay (and I had a short connection). So, despite the cheery crew telling us all that we would make our connections since "it only takes 5 minutes to disembark the plane," when we landed, we had to deplane via the stairs and then got bussed. I missed my KLM flight to Kyiv, despite running to the gate, and spent almost 5 hours in the Amsterdam Schiphol airport (which, luckily, is one of my favorites). I managed to get a flight to Kyiv on Ukraine Air, which I had flown on a while back from Kyiv to Simferopol in Crimea and back (quite the adventure, I must say, and I had blogged about that conference in Yalta).

The International Academic Board meeting took place all day Saturday at KSE in Kyiv and I was also welcomed to take part in the Board of Directors meeting all day on Sunday.
I would walk with Dr. Becker and Dr. Rick Ericson from the IBIS hotel to KSE each morning and it was fascinating to see the buildings, landscape, shops, infrastructure, and signs in Ukrainian.
In the photo below, another board member, Dr. Torbjorn Becker of Sweden, is in the background, in front of KSE and the car.
I was very impressed by the students, who have matriculated into the various Master's programs at KSE, and I had the pleasure of meeting entrepreneurs and even a medical doctor and a former minister of the Ukrainian Parliament! Their English was outstanding and I learned that children begin learning English in Ukraine in elementary school.

It was so special to meet the very motivated faculty, who are pushing for reforms and educating this generation. Moreover, I was absolutely delighted to hear that a colleague of mine at UMass Amherst, economics professor Dr. Ina Ganguli, had had a Fulbright at KSE in 2003, so we took a group photo of faculty who know her, which I forwarded to her. Her husband, Dr. Bogdan Prokopovych, is from Kyiv and is a fellow faculty member of mine at the Isenberg School.
 There was even KSE "swag" on display.
The Management Team at KSE has many females and I was very impressed by the number of female students that we got a chance to meet. The research being conducted there is very innovative and has immense potential given the tech talents of many individuals as well as the natural resources that Ukraine has.

We had wonderful coffee breaks and meals and, after a very fulfilling and busy Saturday, we took part in a dinner cruise (with dancing) on the Dnipro River, which was a KSE alumni event. I met alums who now work in major consulting companies, the government, the energy sector, etc. - very impressive! It was extra special to have Dr. Timofiy Mylanov at this and other events. He is the Honorary President of KSE and was recently appointed the Minister of Economic Development, Trade and Agriculture of Ukraine! Amazingly, he is also an Economics Professor at the University of Pittsburgh (on leave).
The bridge in the photo above is over the Dnipro River and the light show was magnificent!

The beauty of Kyiv is spectacular and I managed to fit in a few walks to take in a number of sights.
I might add that the food was delicious at the hotel and at the various KSE events and I got a chance to have some borshcht but passed on the stuffed cabbage at the breakfast buffet.
I was delighted that I got asked for directions multiple times in both Ukrainian and in Russian. Ukrainian is my first language (I was born in Canada) and I have a degree from Brown University in Russian Language and Literature (as well as multiple degrees in Applied Math, specializing in Operations Research). My PhD dissertation was half on transportation and half on spatial economics.

Kyiv is quite a green city and I enjoyed the botanical gardens.
I purchased chocolates to bring back to my students, relatives, and friends, and, I must admit that the chocolates made in the factory of the former President of Ukraine, Poroshenko, are fabulous!

I made my flight from Kyiv to Amsterdam on Monday afternoon and then made it to Boston, also on KLM. Bright and early on Tuesday morning, I taught my Transportation and Logistics class. My students at the Isenberg School of Management were very interested to hear about my experiences in Ukraine, a country certainly in the news lately. And they devoured the box of chocolates below that I had brought back just for them.
I look forward to working with the faculty of KSE and its International Academic Board in order to further the success of its programs, faculty, and students. Reform is challenging but, if done right, will be transformative.

Sunday, September 15, 2019

My 200th Article - Remembering a Great One

This week I finished a paper with a colleague of mine, Professor Patrizia Daniele of Italy, which I had been invited to submit to a special issue of a journal. The paper is on international human migration networks, a topic that is very timely, given the various refugee crises around the globe. The topic of human migration I have been publishing on for over 25 years and it is even tackled, using network models, in my first book, Network Economics: A Variational Inequality Approach, published in 1993, with the second edition appearing in 1999.  In the book, the first citation in the chapter on migration is to  Beckmann, M., “On the equilibrium distribution of population in space,” Bulletin of Mathematical Biophysics 19 (1957) 81–89. 

Professor Martin Beckmann was a member of my PhD committee at Brown University, which was chaired by my dissertation advisor, Professor Stella Dafermos. He was renowned in economics, regional science, and transportation science and was the recipient of the Robert Herman Lifetime Achievement Award of the Transportation Science Section of  ORSA/TIMS, now INFORMS. He received this award in 1994, and you can read the wonderful tribute to him on the occasion of this award by David Boyce, published in Transportation Science

Professors Boyce, Hani Mahmassani, and I wrote a retrospective on Beckmann, McGuire, and Winsten's landmark book, Studies in the Economics of Transportation, that was published by Yale University Press.

And, in 2005, at the INFORMS meeting in San Francisco, David Boyce and I organized 2 sessions in honor of the 50th anniversary of the publication of  Studies in the Economics of Transportation, and the photos below were taken after the sessions. Beckmann and McGuire were present, along with their spouses. Winsten had passed away the year before.

Professor Beckmann passed away at age 92 in the spring of  2017  and his family reached out to me to invite me to attend an informal memorial service in the Beckmann home in Providence, Rhode Island. My husband and I were able to attend and to express our deepest condolences to his family members and also to recall numerous wonderful experiences that we had had with Professor Beckmann in many countries, from Sweden to Australia! I wrote a reminiscence is his honor after returning from the service,where I also posted quite a few photos of various events over the years, several that were in his honor. I had earlier written a tribute to him on the occasion of his 90th birthday and his son acknowledged it.

Since David Boyce and I had written an "In Memoriam" on the passing of Beckmann's co-authors: McGuire and Winsten, published in Transportation Science, it was only fitting to have Martin Beckmann be honored in the same way. Hence, when David Boyce approached me this summer to co-author an "In Memoriam" in honor of Martin, I willingly accepted the offer.  This gave us the opportunity to reflect some more on his extraordinary contributions, his effervescent personality, his incredible intellect, lust for travel, and his love of  great food and adventure and music and friendships.

Our article, "In Memoriam: Martin Beckmann (1924-2017),"  has been accepted for publication by the Editor of Transportation Science, Professor Martin Savelsbergh. And, coincidentally, and, this is bittersweet - this is my 200th journal article. Beckmann's work has influenced so much of my work on networks (and that of so many others) that I wish that I could, once again, speak with him. His work will continue to inspire me, my students, co-authors, and all those who are captivated by the interaction of users of many complex networks that underpin our societies and economies. Thank you ever so much, Professor Martin Beckmann!