Meet the 2020 Judith Liebman Award Winners

Amira Hijazi
North Carolina State University

The Judith Liebman Award has been established to recognize outstanding student volunteers who have been “moving spirits” in their universities, their student chapters, and INFORMS. We interviewed the 2020 Judith Liebman Awardees Sebastián Barriga, Wesley Marrero, and Hyame Alameddine. We start with introductions of these outstanding students:

     Sebastián A. Barriga
     M.Sc. (c) Industrial and Systems Engineering
     Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

I am Chilean and pursuing a Master’s degree in Operations Research at Pontificia Universidad Católica of Chile, conducting research on scheduling chemotherapy patients. I was elected as Operations Research Major Delegate in my junior year (2017) and that’s how I got involved with our newly-formed INFORMS Student Chapter. In the following years, I took on the responsibility of being its Secretary, Vice President and President. This year I am volunteering with INFORMS Subdivisions Council as a student chapter representative. I’m not really sure what will come next, but I think going abroad either for studying or working would definitely be in my plans.

     Wesley J. Marrero
     MGH Institute for Technology Assessment
     Harvard Medical School

I completed my B.S. in Industrial and Management Engineering from what was formerly known as the University of Turabo (now Ana G. Mendez University). Afterward, I received my Ph.D. and M.S. in Industrial and Operations Engineering and an M.A. in Statistics from the University of Michigan. I am currently working as a postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard Medical School and the MGH Institute for Technology Assessment. In the future, I aspire to become a faculty member in a research-intensive institution. My end goal as a researcher is to narrow the gap between decision-making theory and practice.

     Hyame Alameddine
     Ph.D. Information Systems and Multimedia
     Concordia University, Canada
     Experienced Researcher
     Ericsson, Canada

I am an experienced researcher at Ericsson, Canada; working on the security and optimization of 5G and virtualized networks. Before joining Ericsson, I served as a postdoctoral fellow at the University of Waterloo, Canada in 2019-2020. I also worked as a programmer and application developer in multiple national and international companies in Lebanon, my home country, between 2009 and 2014.

I received my Ph.D. degree in Information and Systems Engineering from Concordia University, Canada in 2019. During my Ph.D., I developed and applied multiple optimization techniques to solve the problem of network and computing resources management and scheduling in virtualized networks. I earned a Master’s degree in Computer Engineering - Information, Systems and Multimedia in 2015 from Conservatoire National des Arts et des Métiers (CNAM) University, France.

As an active researcher in the areas of cloud and edge computing, network functions virtualization, software-defined networking, 5G and security, I aim at elevating today’s technological experience to provide better active learning experiences in a world in which we redefined the basics of living.

Can you summarize your involvement with INFORMS?

Sebastian Being part of a Latin American Student Chapter of INFORMS isn’t always ideal, as most of INFORMS amazing activities are held in the US. Despite this geographical constraint, we’ve participated in the 2017 Student Leadership Conference in Baltimore, MD, and in 2019 we traveled to Seattle, WA, to receive the Cum Laude level award for our Student Chapter at the Annual Meeting. This was made possible with the support we received from INFORMS and our own School of Engineering, for which I am extremely grateful. During these events, I learned from INFORMS’ unique culture and met people with whom I have continued contact. It opened my mind as the OR/MS community in the US is much wider and bigger than in Chile, and I’m very thankful for having had that opportunity for growth.

Wesley I first became engaged with the INFORMS student chapter at the University of Michigan (INFORMS at UM) through my service as the volunteering and outreach chair in 2018. In this position, I had the privilege of co-organizing outreach activities as well as starting the INFORMS at UM Pro-Bono Initiative, a program of service to the community. As a result of my efforts, a new position was created for the 2019-2020 term: the pro-bono chair position. I had the honor of being the first to take on this chair position and continuing with the development of the INFORMS at UM Pro-Bono Initiative.

During the 2019-2020 term, I steered the Pro-Bono Initiative towards developing new collaborations with organizations in our community. I was able to establish relationships with several non-profit and community organizations, including United Way for Southeastern Michigan, Habitat for Humanity, the New West Willow Neighborhood Association, and the University of Michigan’s Shared Services Center. The pro-bono group greatly benefited from these projects. By the end of the year, the pro-bono group grew from 9 to over 40 volunteers at the undergraduate and graduate level from multiple departments at the University of Michigan.

To ensure the continuation of the initiative after my term as the pro-bono chair, I identified and trained my successor for this position. Currently, I serve as an advisor for the pro-bono group. I am proud to say that the current pro-bono chair along with INFORMS at UM volunteers are still working on projects, even in the light of the current pandemic.

Hyame I was introduced to INFORMS by one of my friends in 2016 when we were discussing the idea of co-founding a student chapter to promote collaboration between graduate students. Since then, I joined INFORMS and became a member. I also co-founded the Montreal Operations Research Student Chapter (MORSC). The co-founders and I decided to register MORSC under INFORMS to become an INFORMS student chapter. I served as the Academic Events Director of MORSC in 2016-2017 and as a Vice President in 2017-2018.

During those years, I introduced INFORMS and promoted MORSC to friends, colleagues and professors in the field and motivated them to join INFORMS, the chapter and its organizing committee. I assisted in setting up the chapter strategy. For instance, in 2016-2017, when we co-founded the chapter, we focused on organizing many events to promote the chapter within Concordia University and other universities in Montreal. In 2017-2018, we decided to expand our social media and host wider events to reach colleagues in other countries. We moved from local events to national and international events organized in collaboration with other organizations such as the Canadian Operational Research Society (CORS), Airo Young part of the Italian Operational Research Society (AIRO), GERAD, Centre Interuniversitaire de Recherche sur les Réseaux d’Entreprise, la Logistique et le Transport (CIRRELT), the Mechanical Industrial and Aerospace Engineering Graduate student committee at Concordia University and the Operations Research Challenge (TORCH). We invited professors and researchers from universities inside and outside Canada to share with us their latest research.

Furthermore, my contributions to MORSC included ensuring that the chapter by-laws and strategies are respected, coordinating MORSC activities and events with the MORSC executive board and other MORSC teams, organizing events and managing the academic events team. In addition, I was following up on administrative tasks related to the chapter registration under INFORMS and Concordia University, application for funds, yearly reports about the chapter achievements, and setting up and organizing the call for elections for a new executive board.

What were the challenges, benefits, and disadvantages of your involvement?

Sebastian My first year in our INFORMS Student Chapter I was part of the Social commission, the one that gets involved with different low-income public organizations and develops a project to help them via OR/MS. I think that that experience was what started my passion for my career, as I could see firsthand that what we were doing could have an impact on society. It was challenging, as solving a real-life problem isn’t like a course’s homework: data is disorganized, people aren’t always very clear of what their needs are and most of all, you have to take into account the human factor in any implementation that you want.

After carrying out this project, I started getting involved even more in our Student Chapter as a Board Member, where I had to foresee the global picture of the commissions. What I’ve always been very thankful about is our own team, full of bright and talented men and women, mostly undergraduates, who give their time and passion for the community. Sometimes it might be hard to keep organizing events when there are exams or for example a remote year (i.e. COVID19 pandemic), but the motivation that our chiefs of commissions have is wonderful, as they were the ones who pushed and kept carrying out their activities.

Wesley Being involved in outreach activities and pro-bono work has challenges, benefits, and even disadvantages.

Challenges: The most difficult part of my involvement with INFORMS at UM has been to identify community partners and assess the potential for collaboration. It requires several meetings to clearly define a potential partner’s needs and evaluate if our areas of expertise are a good fit to address the problems. Another challenging area has been to ensure that the volunteers are developing their skills and that both the students and the community organizations are benefiting from the partnerships.

Benefits: Outreach activities reinforce relationships among INFORMS at UM members by providing us with the common goal of inspiring the future generation of operations research and analytics professionals, while simultaneously igniting the interest of future potential INFORMS members. Additionally, these activities allow us to connect with other student organizations at the University of Michigan and learn from each others’ successes and failures.

Pro-bono projects give INFORMS at UM members the opportunity to obtain real-world experience while serving the community and underserved populations. Volunteers also get the chance to showcase their work in internal and external research conferences as well as in media articles. We were fortunate to present our decision support model for the placement of mobile pantries at the Michigan Student Symposium for Interdisciplinary Statistical Sciences, where the volunteers working on the project were awarded the Societal Impact Award. Also, we have had the privilege of our work being featured by local news outlets, such as Concentrate.

Disadvantages: For me, the greatest drawback of volunteering was the time it took away from my research and studies. I have found that it’s best to address this issue by sharing and distributing the workload with my peers. It is an immense privilege to serve the next wave of operations research and analytics professionals as well as the community.

Hyame Great question indeed. I do not know where to start. Perhaps, I should start by elimination and mention that I cannot think of any disadvantages. This might be too “cliché”, but I would say all the struggles are learning experiences even if they were confused with disadvantages at some point in time. One of the earliest challenges I faced was when we launched MORSC. It was very difficult to promote the chapter and incentivize students to contribute and become active members.

Another challenge was project and time management. Many times, members of the organizing committee of MORSC events fail to accomplish their assigned tasks due to personal reasons or upcoming exams. With the limited number of members in the organizing committee, it was very challenging to re-distribute the tasks and ask the help of others. Many times, the executive board members and I had to take over and figure out the time and project management to make the event a success.

Despite these challenges, I personally learned a lot. My communication skills along with my marketing skills improved significantly. I practiced project and time management and learned from colleagues how to better handle those and adjust to all the uncertainties. I had the chance to expand my network and meet colleagues and researchers working in different areas. I was also delighted to meet, discuss and learn from many professors who served as distinguished speakers in MORSC events. Last but not the least, I was involved in periodic discussions with other organizations and student chapters such as the Canadian Operational Research Society (CORS), GERAD, Centre Interuniversitaire de Recherche sur les Réseaux d’Entreprise, la Logistique et le Transport (CIRRELT), the Mechanical Industrial and Aerospace Engineering Graduate student committee at Concordia University and The Operations Research Challenge (TORCH) with which we organized many joint events. I would like to take the opportunity to thank every member of those organizations for their continuous support of MORSC.

Being a student, it’s usually difficult to spare time for volunteering. How did you manage that given your busy schedule?

Sebastian Since I started my undergraduate degree, I’ve always participated a lot in everything I liked, therefore I guess it hasn’t been that hard for me. Of course, sometimes time is scarce, yet if you really like what you are doing then it’s not a big problem. And I think that’s the key: to be involved in something that you really like will be totally worth it. The experience, the people, and the personal growth will always be a great investment.

Wesley Volunteering has always been a priority for me. Scheduling a few hours to serve others every week has given me the best results. I have had to be intentional in the time I set apart to volunteer. Also, it helps to work with others. Teamwork typically makes the tasks more enjoyable and they get done quicker.

Hyame Taking the decision to co-found and contribute to MORSC was a big step for me with all the tight deadlines I had. However, at the time, I asked myself the following questions:

Does contributing to such an initiative fit my long-term goals and career?

My answer was: yes.

Do I have time to spend on this initiative?

My answer was: Hyame, you are always afraid when it comes to getting out of your comfort zone. You never tried contributing to a student chapter before. This is your last opportunity to make the best of your student life. You always work by deadlines, challenge yourself and figure out your time management. Just like any other work experience, there is a probation period and a notice time before you leave. You should at least try!!!

How many hours do I need to allocate per week for this volunteering work?

The answer was: 2-3 hours per week.

Nonetheless, I ended up allocating much more time to this volunteering work. This only proves that when you have the passion for something you will figure how to work it out. Also, your environment has a great impact on you and your performance. I confess that without the motivation of my friends, the co-founders, I would have not volunteered. We were all Ph.D. students with limited time and a lot of research struggles. When I saw them motivated, I told myself, if they can do it why would I not be able to do it as well? We supported each other very well. Whenever one was busy, the others covered for him/her and were understanding.

How do you feel about the award you received?

Sebastian It was totally unexpected yet a very pleasant surprise. I have been part of my INFORMS student chapter for a few years now, and I couldn’t be more grateful for the experiences INFORMS and my Student Chapter have given to me. I had the chance to travel, to learn organization and leadership skills, and to love even more my career, but most of all to meet amazing people and feel part of its community.

Wesley I am honored to receive the 2020 Judith Liebman Award. It is my hope that the INFORMS at UM Pro-Bono Initiative continues to serve as a bridge between the University of Michigan and the Ann Arbor community for the years to come.

Hyame I feel extremely blessed and accomplished. I am very happy to be recognized by INFORMS for my contributions to MORSC. Receiving the Judith Liebman Award is yet another great motivation to continue giving back to the community, supporting students and researchers all around the world just like they supported me. I believe that sharing knowledge is my duty and a very important step to build a better world.

What would you suggest to your fellow students who are interested in getting involved with INFORMS?

Sebastian To take part in their student chapters and try the things that make you happy! There’s nothing better than trying new experiences and carrying them out as far as you can. If you have an idea, propose it to your student chapter and organize yourselves to make it. Also, there are many ways that the OR/MS community can help others, so don’t forget it and do your best always! And if you think I can personally assist you in something please feel free to reach me and I’ll try to help as much as I can.

Wesley Getting involved with INFORMS provides a unique opportunity to expand your network, share your work, and potentially develop collaborations. I would encourage my fellow students to take advantage of their student chapters. If they do not have one, I urge them to start a new chapter. The benefits vastly outweigh the effort. I also exhort my peers to attend INFORMS conferences and their networking events. Reach out to people after their talks and make sure to follow up with them after. It is important to dig the well before you get thirsty!

Hyame For all the students out there, I say: Do not overthink the responsibilities, this is the challenge that you must try. Volunteering is the work experience you are looking for. It builds your entrepreneurship skills, leadership and communication skills. It teaches you time and project management. And on top of all that, it introduces you to great souls that will accompany you through your journey. Working in operations research or not, does not allow/prevent you from getting involved with INFORMS. Despite being an international society for practitioners in the fields of operations research, management science, and analytics; INFORMS is a great welcoming, supportive community which strives to support its members, acknowledge and reward their hard work. Getting involved with INFORMS is an exceptionally rewarding investment if you strike to evolve and make a difference among your colleagues, your community, your research and around the world.