April 29, 2012

Engineering Prog. Named One of Top Three in U.S.

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Cornell’s master of engineering program in the School of Operations Research and Information Engineering was recently identified by UPS as one of the top three programs for students entering the fields of operations research, management science or analytics.

Awarded for the first time this year by the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences, the UPS George D. Smith Prize was created in honor of Smith, a former chief executive officer for UPS. With the competition, the institute hopes to strengthen ties between industry and higher education programs, according to Prof. Kathryn Caggiano, operations research and information engineering, who is the director of Cornell’s master of engineering studies.

Last October, Caggiano said, the program decided to submit an application “because we felt like we have a pretty strong program.”

Of the 18 applicants that applied for the $10,000 prize, Cornell’s master of engineering program was one of three selected as finalists. Also among the top three were Lehigh University’s Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering and the University of Michigan’s Tauber Institute for Global Operations.

“It is very exciting to be recognized as one of the top three programs preparing practitioners, especially since ORIE’s Ph.D. program was also previously recognized by the National Research Council,” Prof. Mark Eisner, operations research and industrial engineering, former program director, said in an email.

Caggiano said after an intensive application process, she and the team — which included Eisner and two students, Akansha Gawade grad ’11 and Sam Davis grad ’07 — traveled to Huntington Beach, Calif., to give an oral presentation on the program’s history to the prize committee.

Since its inception in 1965, the program has made several key innovations, such as the inclusion of new concentrations and partnerships with other departments, according to Caggiano.

Gawade said that during the presentation she gave feedback about her time as a student in the program.

“My main contribution, I think, in the beginning was just sort of being honest and sharing my experience,” she said.

According to Caggiano, the presentation emphasized the master of engineering program’s development over the years, including its dedicated leadership and faculty and its capstone project, which allows students to work one-on-one with real companies.

“Our program provides a very strong set of fundamentals for the study of operations research, and … gives real world experience with real companies [and] real projects,” Davis said. “It’s a combination of these two things that really makes our program standout.”

According to Davis, it was hard to strike a balance between an informative and exciting presentation, “given that we didn’t know how much they remembered or knew about the program [from the application process].”

When the time came to announce the winner, tensions among the team members ran high. Gawade compared the suspense to waiting to hear the winning names at the Academy Awards.

“We were all holding our breath,” she said.

The Tauber Institute of the University of Michigan was ultimately named the winner of the Smith Prize. Cornell and Lehigh’s programs were given plaques and distinguished at the conference’s main gala event.

Though acknowledging his disappointment at the loss, Eisner emphasized the differences between Cornell’s program and the winning program, noting that the Tauber Institute “[caters] to students who already have work experience and [are] specializing in manufacturing and operations.”

“By contrast, most of our students come to the program directly from undergraduate degrees,” he said.

Davis echoed Eisner’s sentiments of disappointment.

“Up until Michigan won, I felt like we were going to win it,” he said. “I thought that we had made a great presentation and I felt that we had great content. I really stand behind everything we said.”

Despite not winning the prize, the team said they remained proud of their achievements.

“We felt like we did still achieve something by becoming a finalist,” Gawade said. “Maybe this year just wasn’t our year, but it sort of opened up our eyes. We are doing great and we have come really far.”

Original Author: Lianne Bornfeld