Geoffrion gift sets in motion the enrichment of real-world student experiences
At a gala dinner celebrating ORIE’s 50th anniversary, Director David Shmoys announced that an ORIE Professor of Practice position has been endowed by Arthur Geoffrion ’59 MIE ‘61 and his wife Helen. The position is a key step in an initiative to expand ORIE’s role in providing students with opportunities to integrate real-world applications with their textbook and lecture-based learning. Shmoys expects that the endowment “will have a transformative effect on the school.”
With their gift, the Geoffrions have created the first endowed Professor of Practice (an academic title approved in 2015) in Cornell’s College of Engineering. Professors of Practice are “expected to enrich the experience of our students by bringing to Cornell a deep understanding and appreciation of the best practices as applied in real-world settings.” However this new endowment is not the first major step the Geoffrions have taken to support more interaction of faculty and graduate students with industry and government. The Geoffrion Family Fund for Industrial Interaction for ORIE was endowed in 2009, with a similar objective but more limited goals.
In endowing the ORIE Professor of Practice this year, Arthur Geoffrion commented that “the conditions at ORIE seem at present to be particularly fertile for this type of new faculty position. No change agent and facilitator for industrial-academic interaction could succeed without a local culture that is accepting and desirous of this sort of thing. I became convinced, after faculty hiring priorities emphasized applied Operations Research earlier in this decade and especially after recent discussions with ORIE Director David Shmoys and Engineering Dean Lance Collins, that there was a great opportunity to make a beneficial difference” with this endowment, “helping the school become even better, while remaining true to its current identity.” Shmoys concurs with the timing, saying that “this gift comes at exactly the right time, and provides the School with exactly the right resources, to move our initial steps in integrating industrial experiences within the PhD program to the next level.”
Geoffrion believes that academic-industry interaction is valuable to students and faculty "because of the cornucopia of research problems they will discover, the knowledgeable real-world colleagues and laboratories they will have for learning and testing their ideas, and the real-world experiences that will enliven the classroom." He also believes that the interaction is valuable to companies and agencies that will "benefit from improved decision technology." He emphasizes that, rather than competition between theory and applications, “the objective should be to achieve a healthy synergistic balance between applications and theoretical work.” During his years with the Institute for Operations Research and Management Science (INFORMS), which Geoffrion served as President in 1997, he “preached that the destiny of OR in academia is the destiny of OR in practice, and vice versa; either one without the other will be stunted, but together they will thrive,” he said.
Shmoys observes that “the availability of data to help drive decision-making in a broad cross-section of industries (many of which didn’t exist 10 years ago) has dramatically increased the impact of OR in society today. One direct consequence of this change is to greatly expand the range of opportunities for students, particularly doctoral students, to integrate an immersion experience within their education.” Such an experience “has been a key element for several members of today’s Cornell OR PhD cohort, but in an ad hoc way that has been complicated to arrange” he points out.
The Professor of Practice endowment enables ORIE to “set in motion the notion of an advising and consulting laboratory in ORIE,” Shmoys told attendees at the anniversary gala. The laboratory provides an umbrella structure that will make it possible for students to pursue data-driven modeling and analytical projects that solve real-world problems, extending the project experiences characterizing ORIE’s Master of Engineering program in a systematic way to the undergraduate and PhD program. Geoffrion sees the establishment of the advising and consulting laboratory as evidence that “ORIE was ripe for a greater effort to cultivate relations with industry.”
In particular, Shmoys said that the Geoffrion-sponsored Professor of Practice will bring real-world engagement opportunities for PhD students to the mainstream within ORIE, increasing the guidance available for project execution. “The endowment will enable the hiring of a faculty member whose primary responsibility will be the cultivation of ongoing relationships with members of a portfolio of industry partners who can provide the right sort of hands-on experience for these PhD students,” said Shmoys. As Geoffrion points out, “PhD students provide the next generation of professors. The more that professors recognize the crucial synergy between academia and practice, the better will be their shared destiny.” ORIE also plans to have Professors of Practice in the M. Eng. and undergraduate programs, all under the umbrella of the advising and consulting laboratory.
Arthur Geoffrion, who received a Bachelor of Mechanical Engineering from Cornell in the class of 1959, went on to receive a Master of Industrial Engineering degree from Cornell in 1961 and the first PhD in Operations Research from Stanford. “Cornell was the place where Andy Schultz piqued my interest and answered the question that has determined my career: ‘What is Operations Research?’” he said.
Geoffrion joined the UCLA faculty in 1965 and retired in 2005 as James A. Collins Chair in Management Emeritus. A highly regarded practitioner and theoretician (he is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a Fellow of INFORMS), he has worked throughout his career to close the gap between academia and management, for example by establishing in 1982 what became the INFORMS Roundtable.