Zombies as teaching tools?

Peter Horner, editor

I’ve been editing OR/MS Today for nearly 25 years, and I’m pretty sure this is the first time we’ve ever had a zombie on the cover. We’ve had boats and trains and planes on the cover. We’ve had U.S. presidents, admirals and soldiers on the cover. Heck, we even had Marilyn Monroe on the cover, which got us into a little bit of trouble (long story). But zombies? No, never, not until now.

OK, it’s October and Halloween is coming up, which makes zombies timely, and I’m guessing you’ll see just as many junior zombies on your doorstep on Oct. 31 as you’ll see pint-sized princesses and pirates. Halloween is also the day before the start of the 2015 INFORMS Annual Meeting in Philadelphia, which gives us yet another opportunity to plug the conference (

But the real reason we have our first ever zombie cover is not because zombies are timely and have become pop culture icons (they have) and not because they seem to show up everywhere (they do, even when not invited), but because zombies are, well, pretty good salespeople when it comes to grabbing the attention of O.R. students and pounding (figuratively) O.R. concepts into students’ heads.

Who knew?

Back story: Several weeks ago, INFORMS forwarded me an email from Nate Arrowsmith, the president of the INFORMS student chapter at the Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT). Nate was interested in publishing an article in OR/MS Today. Nate’s email read in part: “The zombie competition may be newsworthy with the way things are shaping up. Plus there’s a research component involved. Plus, ya know, zombies are pretty cool.”

Nate had me at “zombie.” But what in the heck was he talking about? Zombie competition? Research component? I had to find out more.

Turns out that RIT, in conjunction with LMI (a not-for-profit strategic consulting firm serving the federal government), holds an annual simulation software modeling competition based on, you guessed it, zombies and zombie vs. human behavior. Having won last year’s event, Nate was looking to publicize this year’s event, which used to be called the “Zombie Apocalypse Modeling Competition” until it was renamed “Contingency-Z @ RIT” this year. For more on the story, co-authored by Brant Horio of LMI and Arrowsmith, see page 30.

Simulation is a theme that runs throughout this issue of OR/MS Today. Along with zombie simulation, the issue is headlined by our biennial survey of simulation software products, which attracted a record 55 software packages from 39 vendors this year, the 10th in the series. James J. Swain, a professor in the ISEEM department at the University of Alabama in Huntsville who has orchestrated this and all previous simulation surveys, introduces the survey on page 36 while offering his unique insight into the popular O.R. tool.

Meanwhile, the Winter Simulation Conference (WSC 2015), touted by both Swain in his article and in the INFORMS News section (page 51), is set for Dec. 6-9 in Huntington Beach, Calif. ( WSC is considered “the central meeting place for simulation researchers, practitioners and vendors spanning all disciplines and working in industry, government, military, service and academic sectors.”

Zombies aren’t on the guest list, but when has that ever stopped them?