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Grand Challenges in Engineering

The National Academy of Engineering is soliciting thoughts on “Grand Challenges for Engineering“, setting an agenda for the next 100 years. Of course, such a goal is impossibly ambitious: imagine trying to do such a think in 1907, and come even close to what the last 100 years have achieved (or failed at). But in OR we understand the value of long-term planning with rolling horizons. If we don’t think about where we might want to go, we can’t even take the first step.

What is the role of OR in these Grand Challenges? As a field, we seem to be successful in the details, but less successful in the big picture. Even trying to define “who we are” causes more smoke than light. But we should think big: without the skills and knowledge of those in OR, any problem sufficiently broad and important to justify the title “Grand Challenge” is doomed to failure.

INFORMS President Brenda Dietrich, in her recent OR/MS Today article, talks about getting outside our comfort zone, and her comments really hit home. I am comfortable doing my research, and teaching students. I have gone a bit outside my comfort zone by moving to New Zealand for a year, but am I really stretching myself?

Thinking about Grand Challenges is a good way to get outside your comfort zone. Art Geoffrion and others have put together a wiki for OR people to think about Grand Challenges in Engineering and the role OR has to play. I think it is a great idea to spend some time thinking about the “big picture” and how engineering and OR fits into it. And definitely check out the “Grand Challenges in OR” site!

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  1. […] call for thoughts about the National Academy of Engineers Grand Challenges activity.  What can OR offer to this initiative?  Check out the “OR and the Grand Challenges” […]

  2. […] in Engineering. The leadership of INFORMS put together a white paper on the subject, which I wrote about a while ago. Aurelie takes issue with the fragmented aspect of the proposed role: The applications-driven paper […]