The power of volunteering

INFORMS President

Anne Robinson

Twitter: @agrobins

Anne Robinson

The INFORMS elections will have closed by the time this article is published, and a new president-elect as well as other board positions will have been selected. Stepping up to be a nominee for a position on the Institute’s board can be daunting endeavor – the focus of a specific area (such as Education, Practice or Publishing), as well as the overall well-being of the society, lies on your shoulders during your tenure. However, it can also be an extremely satisfying experience. During those two to four years, you will meet some fantastic people (fellow board members as well as INFORMS staff), learn all the ins and outs of managing a not-for-profit organization, and make critical decisions about topics relevant to the society and profession.

Many volunteer experiences within the INFORMS community can be personally gratifying. In fact, the volunteers are the backbone on which the society is built. Volunteers started each section or society, pioneered the journals and magazines, and shaped each award, among other things. For example, work with INFORMS staff and volunteer leadership begins in earnest in 2014 on INFORMS’ 14th journal – Strategy Science – set to debut in 2015.

I started volunteering for INFORMS as a graduate student, first as a leader with the local Stanford University Chapter and later as an editor of OR/MS Tomorrow. I had grown up always being a volunteer, in the sense of giving back to the community. But volunteering for the professional society allowed opportunities beyond the personal satisfaction of giving back.

First, it provided the opportunity to explore areas that were different from my daily activities. In my day-to-day life, I am a supply chain analytics professional, yet in 2007 I was elected to the INFORMS Board in the position of  VP of Marketing, Communications and Outreach. I learned more about those domains than I ever would have had in my work life. Furthermore, as the interest in analytics became prevalent to the INFORMS community, I worked extensively with Jack Levis from UPS on strategy and change management. Those skills have translated directly back into my work life as a regular part of my role at Verizon.

Second, it allowed me to work side-by-side and learn from thought leaders in our profession. I had the good fortune of being a judge for the Edelman competition several years ago. During this experience, I met Steve Graves from MIT, someone I had only known by reputation and by his academic publications. It was a privilege to work with him on this very competitive award, understand his thought process and shepherd the committee to a unanimous decision. As an aside, judging awards has to be one of my personal favorite activities when it comes to volunteering.

Third, volunteering solidified my professional network. Meeting people at conferences and discussing ideas over coffee is a great way to seed your professional network. However, when you work with someone on an initiative or project you create a much stronger bond. I have met countless fellow INFORMS members through these types of activities, resulting in a network that continues to help me grow professionally.

Why did I choose this topic for this issue? Volunteers are the lifeblood of INFORMS. They strengthen our community and craft the direction of the society and profession. Countless membership surveys find that those who volunteered as a student tend to have a longer tenure with the society than those who did not. Engaged members find more value from their society membership. Many of our profession’s leaders have shared their time and insights to enrich the community; it is our responsibility to continue to do so.

As a new year approaches, many INFORMS committees will be looking for new members to fill their rosters. INFORMS always needs new people to get engaged and volunteer. I encourage you to explore INFORMS Online’s various pages to find out about volunteer opportunities. In particular, INFORMS has created four participation roadmaps ( These provide possible volunteer activity roadmaps for those interested in meetings/conferences, publications and communities. There is even one dedicated to students. Students make great volunteers! The insights and perspective from the next generation of analytics academics and practitioners are highly valuable.

There are many types of volunteer activities one can choose to do for the society. Some roles are organizational or leadership focused while others are geared toward your depth of knowledge. From community leadership to judging the Edelman or other awards, to being a reviewer of an academic article, there is definitely something for everyone. I hope you will find the role that is right for you!

Correction: In my column in the August issue of OR/MS Today, I mistakenly wrote that Peep Miidla was “president of the Croatian Operational Research Society, the newest member of EURO, with a society 22 members strong.” Professor Miidla is actually vice president of the Estonia Operational Society, which is the newest member of EURO. The Croatian Operational Research Society, on the other hand, was founded 21 years ago, includes 137 members and has been a member of EURO and IFORS since 2007.