Alumni honor their mentor, Professor Emeritus Jack Muckstadt, at festive NYC dinner

Nearly 200 ORIE alumni, guests, and family joined together at the prestigious and opulent Metropolitan Club in New York City April 5, 2013 to celebrate the career and retirement of Professor John A. (Jack) Muckstadt, Acheson-Laibe Professor of Engineering.

The New York celebration, primarily for BS and M. Eng. graduates, complemented an ORIE Ph.D. reunion in October in Ithaca that was also organized around Muckstadt’s retirement. While most attendees at the New York event were from the metropolitan area, some travelled from as far away as Germany, California, Texas, Washington, Arizona and Florida to honor Muckstadt.

At the dinner, College of Engineering Dean Lance Collins briefly reviewed Muckstadt’s extensive Cornell career. “Jack always thought in terms of what was best for the entire College,” Collins said. He has been “an effective advocate for strengthening ties between Cornell and industry,” and was “an early vocal and enthusiastic advocate for Cornell pursuing what has now become the Cornell NYC Tech campus,“ according to Collins.

Gifts with special significance
ORIE Director Adrian Lewis presented Muckstadt with a symbolic gift for the teacher, a golden apple displaying the Cornell seal and inscribed at its base with "Four Decades of Exemplary Teaching" together with one of his favorite teaching questions: "So what did you learn from this?"

Cornell hockey coach Mike Schafer '86 also attended and presented a gift. Saying that Muckstadt “supports Cornell or draw,” Shafer gave him a hockey sweater decorated with his name and number.

A toast to the retiree
In leading a toast to Muckstadt, Ivan Lustig ’80, M.Eng. ’81, M.B.A. ’82 said that Muckstadt is known to scholars as a scholar, to teachers as an exemplary teacher, to the officers with whom he served in the U.S. Air Force as an officer, by the ORIE faculty as a chaired professor and former Director, and by experts in supply chain management as an expert “if not THE authority on the subject.” However “the hard-earned title that defines Jack best is one that cannot be conferred by peer review,” said Lustig, “and that is ‘mentor’.’’

Lustig, who is Managing Partner of private equity firm Dover Madison Capital Management, said that Muckstadt “does not lecture from on high but instead revels in getting down to the nitty gritty of a problem,” creating “a kind of intellectual intimacy.” “He is less like Professor Charles W. Kingsfield, of Paper Chase fame,” Lustig said, than like “Professor Henry Walton Jones, Jr. of Indiana Jones fame, a highly accredited academic whose passion for ‘operations research’ tilts decidedly towards the operations” - whereupon he presented Muckstadt with “something to wear as he sets off on the great adventures that await” -- an “Indiana Jones” hat for “Indiana Jack.”

Alumni speakers compile a portrait
Following the dinner, alumni from four decades provided views of Muckstadt from various perspectives, yielding a rounded portrait of their professor. They described his enthusiasm for working on and teaching about real-world problems, his emphasis on critical thinking and intellectual curiosity, his kindness, his role as mentor, and his generosity.

Sherri Stuewer, ’73 M.S. ’75 was Muckstadt’s first graduate student at Cornell. Noting that in the era when she was a student and Muckstadt joined Cornell, “there were precious few women in undergraduate engineering programs and even fewer in graduate programs,” she expressed gratitude to Muckstadt for being “willing to look beyond gender when he took me on as a student. In this he was ahead of his time,” she said. Stuewer is the former VP of Environmental Policy & Planning at Exxon Mobil, a former Cornell Trustee, and a member of the Engineering College Council.

Another former Cornell Trustee, Jeffrey Berg ‘79 M.Eng. ’80 M.B.A. ’81 quoted extensively from a letter recommending Muckstadt be named a Weiss Fellow, which honors Cornell’s most respected teachers of undergraduates. Berg is Director Emeritus of PwC’s PRTM Management Consultants.

Berg wrote that Muckstadt was “able to teach both theoretical subjects (like inventory theory) and illustrate their application via real world situations from his extensive industry consulting projects.” The skills we developed in his classes, Berg continued, “critical thinking, quantitative analysis and ‘stand and deliver,’ served his students well in their business careers and in life.”

Muckstadt was named ORIE's first` Weiss Fellow in 2010, the only Cornell faculty member so designated that year.

Pat McCrink Whitaker M.Eng. ’89 lauded Muckstadt as mentor, role model, advocate and friend. She recalled her inventory control M.Eng. project. “Somehow, he worked his magic so that it was absolutely necessary that we present our work where it was to be used – in Germany,” she recalled. And he managed to incorporate a tour of the Rhine Valley and vineyards on the way from the airport to Dusseldorf. In addition to professional guidance, “he provided what I will call an ‘introduction to gracious living,’” she said. McCrink is Principal Member of Technical Staff at AT&T Labs.

Todd Rethemeier ’93 M.Eng. ’94 M.B.A. ’95, Managing Director at Hudson Square Research, said that Muckstadt "kept trying to convince me to get a Ph.D., until I said that if I did so it would probably be in economics." He thanked Muckstadt for trusting him to teach an accounting course in ORIE as a student. Rethemeier also noted that Muckstadt, an avid hockey and football fan, is a Ph.D. alumnus of the University of Michigan, but that “Big Red always trumps Big Blue.”

Sarah Jacoby ’96 M.Eng. ’97 said that Muckstadt’s teaching changed her engineering education from emphasis on “binary right or wrong solutions” to a nuanced view of “a set of approaches and processes, and a love for the struggle.” In her post-Cornell world “I go with Muckstadt on my shoulder,” she said.

Laura Ventura ’08, who is employed in investment management, said “he impressed upon us the importance of the costs associated with variability, and properly aligning incentives with objectives. Never did a class go by where you didn’t learn something truly thought provoking, much of which I have already applied in my own career.” Quoting from a story related by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, Ventura also said that Muckstadt taught her that “it is harder to be kind than clever.”

The most recent alumnus to speak, Sam Davis ’07 M.Eng. 12, is now pursuing Ph.D. studies at Northeastern University, motivated by his work on an M.Eng. project advised by Muckstadt.

Davis described an episode, clearly of a sort recognized by many of the dinner guests, in which he went to see Muckstadt in his office for a consultation. For more than an hour, their meeting was continually interrupted by a “revolving door of professors and students, ongoing conversations, phone calls, undergraduate and M.Eng. office hours, Ph.D. student consultations …” at the end of which Muckstadt advised “Sam, you’ve got to think about processes.”

Two of Muckstadt's sons, John Muckstadt M.Eng. '87 and Andrew Muckstadt M.Eng. '91 provided unique perspectives on their father.

John described what it was like to be a graduate student in his father's class and have other students wonder about the coincidence of names. He also recalled a kindergarten discussion of parental occupations. He told his classmates that "my father is a doctor but not the kind that can do you any good," but now he understands that his fiather has done more than his share of good.

Andrew revealed that "the secret of my father's success is Linda," and presented his mother with a bouquet of roses.

Video tributes
Nearly sixty alumni contributed congratulatory video clips that were compiled into a montage, interspersed with memory-evoking clips from one of Muckstadt’s well-known experiential learning exercises, the Cups Game.

“You have been saying you were retiring since I was a freshman,” Bernando Menezes ’08 M.Eng. ’09 said in the montage. "Your passion for your work was always very inspiring," said Sue Niebrzydowski Forsythe '90 M.Eng. 92. "Welcome to the fraternity of the retired," said Floyd Spencer Ph.D. '78.

The montage included alumni from China, Belgium, El Salvador, Turkey, Greece, and Morocco, as well as across the United States. A slide show of photos relating to Muckstadt's career, including more than 800 in which he congratulated every ORIE BS graduate at the last eight years of commencement, played continuously during the cocktail hour.

Alumni from nearly every one of Muckstadt’s 38 years either attended the dinner or submitted items such as video clips, photos and messages, or did both. Those present spanned eight decades of Cornellians, from Thomas Latimer ’48, former CEO of Chicago Pneumatic Tool (for whom Muckstadt did consulting work) to current M.Eng. students Drew Weirman '12, Louis Segalini '12, Michael Ingersoll ’12, Daniel Southern '10, and Sara Burbine.

At the end of the evening, Muckstadt’s colleague Professor Peter Jackson, serving as Master of Ceremonies, asked him to lead the singing of the Cornell Alma Mater. He did so in his fine tenor voice, joined by members of the Cornell Glee Club, grateful alumni, and friends.

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