Welcome from the Department Head

John T. Wen

John T. Wen

“May you live in interesting times.” This saying, purportedly ancient Chinese but more likely of western origin, does fit well the age we live in. The breakneck pace of innovation and ubiquitous connectivity has transformed our lives, from the shared (or gig) economy like AirBnB and Uber, to the Internet of Things (IoT) that will allow our refrigerator to talk to our oven for meal preparation, to self-driving cars and drones that will transform our transportation and delivery systems. At the same time, our society is facing serious challenges, such as severe weather, oil spill, terrorism threat, and cyber security breach. In this rapidly changing landscape, systems level thinking is apropos more than ever. Instead of relying on experience and intuition alone, the systems approach uses model and data to understand the relationship and characterize uncertainties between the key driving factors and measurable indicators in order to help humans formulate rational decisions about our environment. ISE faculty are actively developing systems oriented methodologies and solutions to tackle some of the most pressing issues. A leading area of research strength for the department is Resiliency . According to the Presidential Policy Directive on Critical Infrastructure Security and Resilience, resiliency means the ability to prepare for and adapt to changing conditions and withstand and recover rapidly from disruption. Al Wallace analyzes the role of social media in generating actionable information in disaster response and traffic management. David Mendonca studies team dynamics for more effective organization and response in emergency events (see his terrific talk on YouTube about this work). Tom Sharkey develops distributed decision-making and optimization strategies for infrastructure restoration. Martha Grabowski develops risk analysis and mitigation strategies for critical infrastructure systems. This broad array of research has been supported by the Department of Homeland Security, the Department of Transportation, the Army Research Office, the Coast Guard, and the National Science Foundation. Supply chain management is another important theme of the department that also has a resiliency component. Jennifer Pazour, who joined us in fall 2015, develops modeling and optimization tools for military supply chain, peer-to-peer capacity sharing, and healthcare logistics. Wei Xie who joined us in fall 2014, is applying statistical and data analytics techniques to model uncertainties in supply chains and to optimize inventory and production while managing risk.

Our faculty’s research is garnering attention and making impact. Martha Grabowski led the National Academy of Science study on the preparedness and response of Arctic oil spill. David Mendonca is serving as a program director in infrastructure and extreme events at the National Science Foundation for 2015-2017. Jennifer Pazour was recently invited by Warehouse Education Resource Council (WERC) to provide insights into current critical issues in the logistics area. Wei Xie’s work on input uncertainty was recently recognized by the Institute for Operations Research and Management Sciences (INFORMS) Simulation Society for the 2015 Outstanding Publication Award.

With such vibrant research activities in the department, we pride ourselves on the ability to infuse real-world motivations into the strong analytical foundation of our courses. Tom Sharkey has been leading an effort to develop instructional videos on specific operations research (OR) topics and applications on YouTube (from deciding on a cat’s daily menu to football draft pick – who knew these were OR problems?). These videos have been viewed by students not just at Rensselaer, but also throughout the world. Tom’s excellence in teaching was recognized with the 2015 Rensselaer Alumni Association Teaching Award. And for both outstanding teaching and research, he was honored with the 2015 ISE Faculty Award for Excellence. Tom was also promoted to the Associate Professor rank with tenure in 2015 – an all around banner year!

We continue to look for opportunities to engage industry in our research and curriculum. We are developing collaborations with GlobalFoundries, Regeneron, St. Peters Health Partnership, and Sandia National Lab with particular emphasis on data analytics. Together with the Office of Graduate Education and Rensselaer Hartford, we are offering a special version of our Masters of Science in Systems Engineering and Technology Management (SETM) to working professionals at Pratt and Whitney in Maine.

We also value our alumni and recognize the important role they will play in our continued success. We have a long and illustrious history of graduates, since the first management engineering degree in 1933. Our alumni are all over the world and are impacting a diverse array of industries – from manufacturing to financial – government agencies, and the military. It is now easier than ever to stay connected, through the department LinkedIn group and Twitter. I also look forward to connect with alumni during my travels. In July 2015, for example, with the help of Ann Campbell (on the School of Engineering Advisory Council) and John Lorio (on the ISE Departmental Advisory Council), both with the Sandia National Lab, we had a wonderful Rensselaer alumni reception in Albuquerque. It was terrific to see the many Rensselaer alumni—graduates from 1960’s to just a few years ago.

I am always thrilled to hear from alumni – so please continue to drop me a line on how you are doing, and share with us your thoughts and suggestions for the department, your experience at Rensselaer and how that experience shaped your career and life. Please also consider a financial giving to the department. Such support is particularly important to provide additional resources for students, including supporting undergraduate research projects, student travel to attend and present at major conferences, and graduate student teaching Fellows to develop innovative curriculum materials.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch! (Nod to Garrison Keillor)


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