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The True Measure of a Person’s Real Worth

Inspired by Jon Cryer‘s comments on (finally) winning an Emmy last night:

You know, I used to think that awards were just shallow tokens of momentary popularity but — I realize they are the only true measure of person’s real worth as a human being.

I thought I would ‘fess up about an award or two coming the way of yours truly (“Aaah, shucks, you shouldn’t have!”).

First, the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Waterloo has tapped me for their 2009 Alumni Achievement Medal.  While I only spent two and a half years as an undergraduate at Waterloo (I had spent two years at the University of Manitoba), those years were incredibly important to my path.  I got my B.Math. degree  from two departments:  Computer Science and Combinatorics and Optimization.

edmondsYou have to love a place with a Faculty of Mathematics and a 29 faculty strong Department of Combinatorics and Optimization.   I was particularly attached to C&O and was inspired to enter the field of operations research due to the training I got there.   I was strongly affected by two faculty members on the opposite sides of practically any spectrum.  The first was Jack Edmonds, who founded combinatorial optimization with his work on matchings and his recognition of the key divide between polynomial and exponential algorithms.  While that work was done in the 1960s, Jack has remained a prolific and influential researcher to this day.  From Jack, I learned the beauty of this field.

The second person I was strongly influenced by will be less familiar to most:  Richard N. Burns.  Rick did research primarily in nurse scheduling.  We worked together two summers on my first operations research projects.  The first project was for Domtar, a Canadian paper products company, on scheduling a cardboard cutting machine.  For this project, I got my first computer (this was 1980 or so):  a CP/M based system.  It was a fantastic project that taught me both the pleasures and the frustrations of doing real-world operations research.    Exhilarating when things went well; devastating when the code just wouldn’t work.  But finally we got things to work well and the system went into use.  In retrospect, I now see that the work we were doing could be seen as an early precursor to branch-and-price, a topic that has fascinated me ever since.

While the Domtar project was a research project, the second project I did with Rick was a consulting project, putting together a nurse scheduling system.  By the time we had added in time tracking, accounting, payroll, capacity planning, and a few other things, I learned the definition of mission creep:  I am not sure that system ever got finished!  But that too was a great experience.  I enjoyed working with Rick very much, and from him I learned the pleasures of applying operations research in the real world.  I’ve lost track of Rick (he seems to have retired from academia, so I don’t even have a photo of him:  if any of you do, please pass it along!) but he continues to have a strong effect on me.

As you can imagine, Rick and Jack were quite different in their approaches to the world of operations research (if you know both of them, you know they were different in lots of other ways too!) but when it came time for a recommendation of where to go to graduate school they both, independently, suggested the same place: Georgia Tech Industrial and Systems Engineering, which turned out to be the ideal place for me.

I am thrilled that the Faculty of Mathematics picked me for their Alumni Achievement Medal.  The list of past recipients is very impressive indeed!  I pick up the medal at a banquet on Thursday which Alexander and I will drive up for (Ilona being in Europe at the moment).

The second award is … well, maybe I better wait until the INFORMS San Diego Meeting to talk about that.

Finally, though not really an award (perhaps a penalty might be a better term), I am now the Associate Dean, Research here at the Tepper School.  Given the research traditions of this school (and not just in OR!), I am really pleased to be part of making a great school even better.

{ 5 } Comments

  1. Laura | September 21, 2009 at 11:45 am | Permalink

    Nice post. Congrats on the awards!

  2. Tallys | September 21, 2009 at 10:58 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations times 3! I’m curious to know what the second award is :-)

  3. Brian Borchers | September 21, 2009 at 11:37 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations on all of your well deserved awards. I’m not sure whether congratulations or condolances are in order for the deanship, but I hope you enjoy your new position!

  4. Larry (IEOR Tools) | September 22, 2009 at 9:05 am | Permalink

    Congratulations on the new position and the awards. Here’s to great things in the future from the Tepper School!

  5. Ed Kaplan | September 22, 2009 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    Congratulations Mike; this is terrific! Also, I never knew that you went to school in Manitoba and Ontario — I grew up in Saskatoon; by western Canadian standards, we were practically neighbors (well, there’s also that time dimension but who’s counting…) Congrats again for your awards and new AD hat. Cheers, Ed