Tuesday, November 28, 2023

Writing a Professional Obituary is Hard, Writing One for a Friend, Very Hard

The past few years  have been  difficult ones, with many losing friends and loved ones.

As an academic, I have been very blessed to have colleagues around the globe that I consider to be friends, and some are close collaborators. Also, as an academic, I have been inspired by the work of top scholars, and have enjoyed interactions with them.

The bigger your network is, the more frequently you grieve those that pass away.

This year, in April, I lost a friend at the age of 42, Professor Urmila Pyakurel of Nepal. She had communicated with me only 3 days before dying. Urmila was an extraordinary researcher on networks, focusing on evacuation networks. She was also an educator and a mentor,  and a Full Professor of Mathematics. She was the youngest of 12 children and had to overcome immense challenges to reach the Professor level in academia.

                                       Professor Urmila Pyakurel

A way in academia that we can honor a scholar, who has passed away, is by writing a professional obituary.

I wrote an obituary of Urmila with Professor Tanka Nath Dhamala of Tribhuvan University, who was her "doctor father." The obituary has now been published in the journal Operations Research Forum in the December 2023 issue. A preprint is available here. 

Included in this professional obituary are remembrances by: Dr. Enno Aufderheide, Secretary General, Alexander von  Humboldt Foundation, Professor Stephan Dempe,TU Bergakademie Freiberg, Dr. Hari Nandan Nath,Tribhuvan University, which was Urmila's home institution,  Mr. Durga Prasad Khanal, also of Tribhuvan University, and Dr. Naba Raj Lamsal, Former Director of  Radio Nepal, and BBC correspondent. We also included my remembrance. I had met Urmila in 2019 at a Dynamics of Disasters conference in Kalamata, Greece that I had co-organized with Professors Panos M. Pardalos and Ilias S. Kotsireas. Her warmth and intellect I found inspiring.                        

  Some of the conferees at the 2019 Dynamic of Disasters conference in Greece (Professor Urmila is in the photo above with the red bag.)

The first professional obituary I ever wrote (and remember - many journalists are "trained" by writing obituaries), and this one was also very, very difficult to write, was for my PhD dissertation advisor at Brown University, Professor Stella Dafermos, who passed away at age 49. I was her first PhD student. The obituary was published in the journal Operations Research. Stella was one of the very few in Operations Research honored in this way upon passing. I also wrote an In Memoriam for Stella with MIT Professor Amedeo Odoni, which was published in Transportation Science.

Stella chaired my PhD dissertation committee and Professor Martin Beckmann, a renowned economist at Brown, was also on my committee. When he passed away at the age of 93, Professor David Boyce and I wrote the In Memoriam, which was published in Transportation Science. David Boyce and I also wrote an In Memoriam in Transportation Science for Beckmann's co-authors of the classical book, Studies in the Economics of Transportation, Bart McGuire and Chris Winsten. More information on this book can be found here.

In my Transportation and Logistics class that I teach I always share with students stories about Dafermos and Beckmann since their work lives on and has had a tremendous impact. Urmila's publications will also have a tremendous impact on evacuation networks in Nepal, which suffers from so many disasters, and beyond. I will always treasure the wonderful memories of Urmila's smile, her friendship and support. 

Friday, November 24, 2023

Accomplishments of the Virtual Scholars in Ukraine Program 1 Year in - The Global Partnership Between UMass Amherst and the Kyiv School of Economics

The one year anniversary of the Virtual Welcome for Scholars in Ukraine supported by the outstanding partnership between the University of Massachusetts Amherst and the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) is approaching. That event, held on November 30, 2022, featuring scholars in Ukraine and their faculty hosts at the Isenberg School of Management, was laudable and incredibly moving, with the scholars having to take part in the event for a time at the KSE bomb shelter.

The Virtual Welcome event jump started the research and collaborations of the scholars in Ukraine with their faculty hosts at the Isenberg School. To-date, a total of 15 Virtual Scholars have been supported, with 9 of them (Elena Besedina, Nina Chala, Yuriy Dyachenko, Iuliia Kuntsevych, Myroslava Kushnir, Pavlo Martyshev, Viktor Maziarchuk, Maksym Obrizan, Pavlo Prokopovych) placed with Isenberg School faculty, and 5 others (Petro Chorniy, Nadiia Koval, Borys Kormych, Anton Liagusha, Hanna Zaremba-Kosovych) with faculty in Social and Behavioral Sciences and 1 (Georgiy Shevchenko)  in Math/Stats at UMass Amherst.

Thanks to all the faculty hosts at the Isenberg School: Professors Alicia Johnson of Marketing, Anya Mkrtchyan of Finance, Nora Junaid of OIM, Muzzo Uysal of HTM, Ina Ganguli of Management, and yours truly, also of OIM.

The program is helping to reduce the Brain Drain of researchers from Ukraine and, to-date, has led to a remarkable outgrowth of brainstorming sessions, journal publications as well as submissions, conference presentations, and even engagement of students in accompanying research projects. Importantly, it has also enriched the understanding of Ukraine and challenges in wartime for researchers and higher education. The Virtual Scholars represent not just KSE but also other universities including the Ukrainian Catholic University and the National University Odesa Law Academy.

UMass Amherst also hosted the visit of the President of KSE - Tymofiy Mylovanov on February 2, 2023 and that of the Rector - Tymofii Brik on May 3, 2023. Rector Brik took part that day in a Virtual Symposium that we had organized featuring the Virtual Scholars in Ukraine and their faculty hosts and also delivered an excellent seminar. 

Deep gratitude is extended to the UMass Amherst International Programs Office under its Director Kalpen Trivedi, who was instrumental in making this partnership a reality, with Ukraine and its higher educational institutions dealing with many challenges, since the full-scale invasion by Russia on February 24, 2022. Thanks also to Isenberg Dean Anne P. Massey for her extremely meaningful support of the partnership and of the Virtual Scholars. Thanks to the Isenberg School Virtual Scholar Selection Committee that included Associate Deans George Milne and Nikunj Kapadia and Bogdan Prokopovych and to all the Department Chairs who have been very helpful including the OIM Chair Senay Solak, the Marketing Chair Elizabeth Miller, the former Management Chair Bruce Skaggs, and the former HTM Chair (and faculty host) Muzzo Uysal.

And, this academic year, UMass Amherst, as part of the partnership, is hosting 4 exchange students from the Kyiv School of Economics. Recently, we held a welcome event to introduce them to the community.

Some of the research that we have been involved in with Scholars in Ukraine can be found on the Virtual Center for Supernetworks website. I am thrilled that even one of my Isenberg School PhD students, Dana Hassani, has been engaged in research with us. To-date, our collaborations, have yielded publications in such journals as: European Journal of Operational Research, Journal of Global Optimization, and Operations Research Forum as well as in the Proceedings of a Workshop hosted by the Pontifical Academy of Sciences. The research continues as do the growing friendships across the miles.

Many OpEds and other publications in the media have also been written related to the research and partnership and interviews taken part in.

Saturday, November 18, 2023

Thankful for the Kyiv School of Economics in Ukraine

Next week we are celebrating Thanksgiving and this post highlights my gratitude for the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE) in Ukraine, its President - Tymofiy Mylovanov and its Rector - Tymofii Brik, along with its Management Team, faculty, and staff, as well as students.

Yesterday and today, starting at 6AM (and it is a Saturday), I took part in the KSE International Academic Board (IAB) meeting and in its Board of Directors (BOD) meeting.

I have had the honor of serving on both the KSE IAB and BOD for several years now, and, as my readers know, in March 2022, shortly after the full-scale invasion of Ukraine by Russia, I was elected a Co-Chair of the BOD of KSE. The other Co-Chairs are: Olena Bilan, Oleksandr Kravchenko, and Makar Paseniuk. We meet every other Monday and, more often as various board meetings approach or as various crises materialize. I am also serving on several committees associated with KSE.

What KSE has done in wartime is truly extraordinary - opened up multiple new programs, hired new faculty and staff, built a bomb shelter at the university and its staff has engaged in major fundraising campaigns even for humanitarian and disaster relief in Ukraine. Faculty are committed to research, under very challenging circumstances in wartime, and I am extraordinarily grateful for the outstanding partnership established between UMass Amherst and KSE, which has allowed faculty at UMass Amherst to work with 15 Virtual Scholars in Ukraine. 9 of them are associated with faculty at the Isenberg School of Management. And now, we even have 4 exchange students from KSE studying at UMass Amherst and I have written about them. They are exceptional ambassadors for KSE and for Ukraine.

KSE had built an incredible community of scholars, policy makers, administrators, and students as well as alums and board members and supporters. Working with colleagues there, whether  in research or in support of its students, as well as with board members, who include superbly talented, dedicated, creative and impactful individuals from a former ambassador to a Nobel laureate, a rock star, a partner at a top consulting company, leaders of corporations, among others, is very meaningful and rewarding. 

Please support the Kyiv School of Economics - Thank you! Higher education in Ukraine and reducing its brain drain are essential to its recovery and reconstruction.

Friday, November 3, 2023

Higher Education in the US and Ukraine Panel - Meet the Exchange Students from the Kyiv School of Economics at UMass Amherst

Yesterday was a very special evening at UMass Amherst. The UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter organized a special event, "Higher Education in the US and Ukraine Panel - Meet the Exchange Students from the Kyiv School of Economics."

The 4 exchange students from Ukraine, who are now studying at UMass Amherst, are taking courses in my Operations and Information Management (OIM) Department and in Economics, Resource Economics and Mathematics.

The exchange is part of an outstanding partnership between UMass Amherst and the Kyiv School of Economics (KSE), made possible through the International Programs Office at UMass Amherst and its Director, the Vice Provost for Global Affairs Kalpen Trivedi.

Below is a collage of photos from the panel, which took place at the Isenberg School of Management.

The UMass Amherst INFORMS Student Chapter Officers, under its President, Dana Hassani, did an excellent job of promoting the event and it was featured on the UMass Amherst webpage. They also secured the room for the panel and designed the nice poster below.

Assisting me with the moderation last evening was my great colleague from the Management Department, Bogdan Prokopovych.

In the presentation, background was provided about this unique partnership, which, in addition to the student exchange program, has helped to support 15 Virtual Scholars in Ukraine, who have been matched with faculty hosts at UMass Amherst.

The full slidedeck can be viewed here. The slidedeck contains background on KSE and the partnership and also includes a video provided by KSE Rector Tymofii Brik to welcome the exchange students from Ukraine.

In the slidedeck are also posted questions that our panelists responded to yesterday prior to the Q&A with the audience.

It was a very warm and inspirational evening. The questions began with some "lighter" ones concerning their favorite foods at the award-winning UMass Amherst Dining Commons, to questions on teaching styles of professors at KSE versus UMass Amherst. Questions were also asked on what they will bring back from UMass to KSE. The answers from our panelists were interesting and very informative. I was especially touched by the exchange students' dedication to help in the recovery and reconstruction of Ukraine and, hence, their desire to achieve the best education possible.

They delighted the audience with their expressions of joy at seeing a UMass hockey game and various sports; their enthusiasm at using our stunning Recreation Center; their enjoyment of the many student clubs at UMass Amherst, including our OIM Student Club!

Our exchange students from KSE appreciate the expansive size of our beautiful UMass Amherst campus, the lovely Amherst Town Center, the beauty of the surrounding nature and the peace.

In the slidedeck, administrators and faculty are thanked and also 3 special preceding events that we co-organized last year highlighted.

Thanks to all, who, in support of this partnership, have helped to reduce brain drain from Ukraine; have helped to forge new, impactful research collaborations across the miles in wartime, and these collaborations have led to sustained friendships, and are now educating and supporting students from Ukraine. I believe that we are learning even more from the students than they are from us.