Profiles of UPS Prize Finalists

Trio of academic departments/programs recognized for effective and innovative preparation of O.R. students aiming at the practice sector.

Editor’s note:
Each year, INFORMS awards the UPS George D. Smith Prize to an academic department or program for effective and innovative preparation of students intent on pursuing careers as practitioners of operations research. This year’s UPS Prize went to Carnegie Mellon University’s H. John Heinz III College’s graduate schools of Information Systems and Management and Public Policy and Management. The other two finalists included the U.S. Air Force Academy’s interdisciplinary operations research program and North Carolina State University’s Institute for Advanced Analytics.

OR/MS Today invited all three finalists to briefly describe their outstanding programs for this special “Innovative Education” issue. Thanks to UPS Prize Committee Chair Robin Lougee for coordinating the contributed articles that follow.

Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy

By Ramayya Krishnan, Jon Nehlsen and Alfred Blumstein
Al Blumstein (center, holding award), Ramayya Krishnan (second from right) and others celebrate Heinz School winning the UPS Prize.

Al Blumstein (center, holding award), Ramayya Krishnan (second from right) and others celebrate Heinz School winning the UPS Prize.

The Heinz College is home to two highly ranked graduate schools: 1) Information Systems and Management and 2) Public Policy and Management, a deliberate structure that exists only at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU). This gives the College great natural advantages in incorporating in our curricula cutting-edge information technologies and analytic methods that were invented or perfected at CMU. It also means that Heinz students emerge with the capability to address a wide array of important societal problems, and to bring analytics and analytic decision processes to bear on issues of global importance.

Our approach

The Heinz College’s approach to analytics education resides on the bedrock principle that analytic thinking and methods only matter if they can be used to solve real problems. The formula is simple:

Analytics + IT + Deployment = Real-World Impact

This approach is important for three reasons. First, analytic thinking and decision-making require the ability to make sense of data in order to structure previously unstructured problems. Second, training in information technology must be part of good analytics training, because in the real world, data is often incomplete, resident in disparate systems and subject to poor input processes. Further, existing data often have to be supplemented with data from partners or the Internet, and increasingly, decisions taken based on analytics are implemented using information systems. Technology training helps our graduates solve these problems. Third, individuals within organizations must learn to work within teams and understand how to deal with the biases, politics and path dependencies that characterize real-world problem-solving. The emphasis on deployment skills helps students learn to solve these problems as well.

The educational experience we provide students benefits considerably from the distinctive Carnegie Mellon multidisciplinary approach to problem-driven research. Many Heinz College faculty coalesce in industry-funded research centers spanning the following topics: entertainment analytics; healthcare analytics; information security and privacy, risk and regulatory analytics; and smart cities (with a particular focus on public safety and transportation).

These centers provide the students with high-quality experiential learning opportunities. The centers supply partners, projects and internships to students while students study alongside our world-renowned thought leaders who assist in answering important applied research questions. This bilateral exchange provides a consistent and effective experience for students.

Our History

The College’s roots date to 1968, when Richard King Mellon, the philanthropist and business leader who led the effort to clean the air above Pittsburgh in the 1940s and 1950s, decided that a new kind of academic institution was needed to address urban turmoil. He asked Carnegie Mellon to help. At the time, Carnegie Mellon was home to the Graduate School of Industrial Administration (GSIA), which had been a leader in emphasizing analytics to replace case studies for business education.

CMU’s response was the School of Urban and Public Affairs (SUPA), and its first dean was William W. Cooper, a distinguished management scientist who founded and was the first president of The Institute of Management Sciences (TIMS). Reflecting on his own career, Cooper emphasized that the mission of SUPA was to “educate men and women for intelligent action.” The “intelligent” would result from a strong analytic curriculum, and the “action” would come from addressing real and important problems, and that theme has been a continuing hallmark even as the school changed its name to honor Sen. John Heinz, a member of the school’s advisory board, who died in an airplane accident in 1991.  

Starting in the late 1980s, the growing importance of information systems was becoming clear. Innovations at CMU’s School of Computer Science and School of Engineering prompted our emphasis on using IT to understand complex social systems and improve public policy. In the 1990s, led by then professor and now dean Ramayya Krishnan, the school built research excellence in addressing problems at the intersection of information technology, public policy and management, and established a master’s degree in information systems (MISM) followed by related degrees in information security policy and management (MSISPM) and a distance program in information technology (MSIT). In 2008, with generous support from the Heinz family, the present structure of the Heinz College of Information Systems and Public Policy was created.

Recent Developments

True to these roots, our students steep in a distinctive core curriculum in management science, statistics, microeconomics and management information systems. Additionally, they practice leadership and deployment skills through mandatory training in professional speaking and writing, organizational behavior and meta-curricular leadership training activities with partners such as the Army War College. Experiential learning through required internships and semester-long capstone projects with startups, global firms and government agencies continues to be an important component of their experience. These activities ensure that students spend substantial time deploying their skills in the real world, enabling them to take off running when they graduate.

The most recent innovation at the Heinz College recognizes that the traditional analytic training in operations research and econometrics needs to be supplemented with education in the tools and techniques of machine learning and data mining. As new sources of data – both structured and unstructured – become available, this enhanced tool kit will be required to address important societal problems. As a result, both schools established rigorous analytics-focused tracks to augment their core programs and offer multiple opportunities to students to apply these methods and tools to solve problems, in some cases with teams of students from other schools at Carnegie Mellon University. The combination of this advanced training and the aforementioned real-world practice equips students poised for intelligent action.

Since its founding, more than 11,000 students have graduated from Heinz programs in Public Policy and Management and Information Systems and Management, and they have pursued successful careers in all sectors of the global economy. Professor Jon Caulkins describes the Heinz College approach succinctly: “We put it together in a package that allows our students to take these tools and make the world a better place.”

Ramayya Krishnan is dean of the H. John Heinz III College and the W. W. Cooper and Ruth F. Cooper Professor of Management Science and Information Systems at Carnegie Mellon University. Jon Nehlsen is associate dean for Partnerships and Communication at the H. John Heinz III College. He is an alumnus of the Heinz College and of the Wharton School. Alfred Blumstein is the J. Erik Jonsson University Professor of Urban Systems and Operations Research Emeritus and former dean (1986-93) of the Heinz College. Blumstein, Krishnan and Caulkins are elected Fellows of INFORMS.

U.S. Air Force Academy’s operations research program

By Lt. Col. Jesse Pietz and Joe Wilck

The United States Air Force Academy offers a four-year bachelor of science degree in operations research. Our interdisciplinary operations research program is jointly administered by four academic departments in order to leverage the combined strengths of computer science, economics, management and mathematics. The operations research program is in its 50th year at the academy, where it continues to support the academy’s mission: “To educate, train and inspire men and women to become officers of character motivated to lead the United States Air Force in service to our nation.”

Cadets are challenged with a demanding schedule of military training, athletic and academic obligations.

Cadets are challenged with a demanding schedule of military training, athletic and academic obligations.

With more than 30 members, our faculty consists of civilian professors, senior military members and junior military instructors. Civilian military members bring many years of expertise in their respective fields, while nearly all of our military faculty members are operations research analysts who bring recent operational experience into the classroom. The military faculty members generally are on three- or four-year assignments at the academy; thus, their experiences of applying operations research to support various Air Force organizations serve as examples of operations research practice and reinforce the concepts and methods we teach in our curriculum.

The Long Blue Line

Our admission standards are among the highest in the nation. Our cadets are challenged with a demanding schedule of military training, athletic and academic obligations. Only the best are able to join the Long Blue Line of graduates, many of whom become frontline operations research practitioners as Air Force analysts. In fact, the academy is the primary producer of operations research analysts to the Air Force. Our operations research graduates include a Rhodes Scholar, Fortune 100 executives and general-level officers.

The secret to the success of our program is an applied senior capstone, where teams of cadets consult for military, corporate, local government and nonprofit organizations in yearlong analysis projects to address real-world problems. The results of these projects have been overwhelmingly positive. Cadets routinely garner awards in competitions at student conferences, the client sponsors rave about the results (and seek to sponsor projects the following year), and the academic outcomes are met. Recent sponsors include: DARPA, U.S. Northern Command, Lockheed Martin, Walmart, AlloSource, Healing Warriors Program and Sandia National Laboratories. These projects bolster undergraduate research and result in many peer reviewed journal articles, conference presentations and proceedings, and undergraduate awards at national conferences.

O.R. is the Core

Approximately half of all Air Force Academy graduates take an operations research course to satisfy the academy’s rigorous core requirements. The course, “Systems Analysis,” covers queueing, forecasting, regression, simulation, linear programming, decision analysis and multi-attribute decision-making in Microsoft Excel. This core course ensures that the Air Force Academy develops young officers who are versed in the practice of operations research and inspires future senior leaders to appreciate the insights that operations research and analytics can provide.

By the numbers: total enrollment of 4,000 cadets, four-year B.S. with 146 total semester hours and 50 percent of all cadets take at least one O.R. course.

Lt. Col. Jesse Pietz, Ph.D., CAP, is the chair of the Operations Research Working Group. Joe Wilck, Ph.D., PE, is the assessment coordinator of the Operations Research Working Group. Both are operations research faculty members in the Department of Management at the United States Air Force Academy.

North Carolina State’s Institute for Advanced Analytics

By Michael Rappa
Home of the Institute for Advanced Analytics at North Carolina State University

Home of the Institute for Advanced Analytics at North Carolina State University

The Institute for Advanced Analytics at North Carolina State University has been preparing data savvy professionals for leadership in a digital world since 2007. Its mission is to produce the world’s finest practitioners of analytics – individuals who have mastered complex methods and tools for large-scale data modeling, who have a passion for solving challenging problems through teamwork, who are guided by intellectual curiosity, honesty and integrity, and who strive to attain the highest level of professionalism through continuous self-improvement.

Interdisciplinary Collaboration

The Institute serves as the focal point for interdisciplinary collaboration among faculty in several disciplines, including applied mathematics, computer science, operations research, statistics, finance and marketing science. The Institute’s flagship program is the nation’s first master of science in analytics (MSA) degree. The MSA is an intensive, full-time, 10-month learning experience with an innovative curriculum developed from the ground up exclusively for students in the program. It is N.C. State’s leading master’s degree measured in terms of student outcomes. With average starting salaries approaching six figures and placement rates at or near 100 percent by graduation, MSA graduates are among the University’s most sought-after and highly paid.

The MSA prepares students for the challenging task of deriving insights from vast quantities of structured and unstructured data. The novel curriculum is fully integrated and delivered in a lockstep fashion to each cohort of students. Instead of the conventional menu of core and elective courses, the Institute deploys faculty who work closely together in what is more accurately described as curriculum threads. This allows diverse disciplinary subject matter to be carefully calibrated and melded seamlessly in a manner that enhances student learning.

In addition to the technical subject matter, students receive personalized coaching in professional development, including teamwork and communication skills, as an integral part of their education. At the core of the curriculum is the practicum: a team-based learning experience stretching eight months that gives students an opportunity to conduct real-world analytics projects using data from sponsoring organizations (confidentially and with no fees attached). The projects are as varied as they are challenging, with complicated data sets in the gigabyte to terabyte range. Partnering with SAS has enabled our students to work with the same software tools widely used in industry. Past projects total more than 100, with 80 sponsors spanning virtually every industry segment and state and federal agencies, including some of the world’s best-known brands. Project outcomes have yielded significant benefits to sponsors.

Highly Selective

Admission to the MSA program is highly selective. The Institute accepts as few as one in eight applicants, with a current enrollment of 120 students annually. In addition to being the University’s most selective graduate program, it is also one of the largest and fastest growing. Among 100 fields of study, the MSA ranks in the top five in terms of the number of degrees awarded annually by the graduate school.

Since the Institute’s inception, the field of analytics education has grown dramatically. The early success of the MSA made it a model for other analytics programs. The Institute opened its doors to hundreds of visitors from universities around the world, sharing the MSA curriculum and our faculty’s wealth of experience in educating analytics professionals. In ways both large and small, the novelty of the MSA served as an inspiration for what has surely been one of the fastest-growing segments of graduate education in the past decade.

Michael Rappa is Goodnight Director and Distinguished University Professor in the Institute for Advanced Analytics at North Carolina State University.