Saturday, March 17, 2018

A BIG Thanks to Operations Researchers at Lancaster University in England for the Outstanding Hospitality

I am back in Amherst, Massachusetts, after being in Europe for 10 days, traveling first to southern Italy where I gave a keynote talk at a conference in a castle and also blogged about it, followed by a  fabulous day in London, and then several days in Lancaster, where I taught a Masterclass on Network Equilibrium at Lancaster University. There I was hosted by STOR-i, which is a Center devoted to doctoral training in statistics and operational research (or, as we say in the US, operations research). I had been invited to teach the Masterclass last summer, and, since I had given a talk at Lancaster, when I was a Visiting Fellow at All Souls College at Oxford University in the spring/summer of 2016, and enjoyed the experience very much, I accepted the invitation. The colleagues in operations research/management science at Lancaster are extraordinary so I was looking forward to seeing them again and also to meeting students that would be taking my Masterclass. This past week was spring break at the University of Massachusetts Amherst so instead of teaching at the Isenberg School of Management I would be teaching at Lancaster University.

On March 11, 2018, I took the Virgin train from Euston Station in London to Lancaster and was delighted to see that the station was promoting the University.
A short taxi ride brought me to the Lancaster House Hotel, which was my domicile for the duration of my stay and the view from my hotel was perfect with seagulls often chirping.
My Masterclass consisted of 4 two hour lectures:
My first evening in Lancaster, I had the great pleasure of having dinner with Professor Graham Rand, who is an extraordinary ambassador for both INFORMS and IFORS, and I have lost track as to the number of conferences I have enjoyed seeing Professor Rand at.
Meeting the students was a delight and I very much appreciated their insightful comments and questions.

Special thanks to Lucy and Luke, two STOR-i doctoral students, who accompanied me to one of the lunches.

It was also wonderful to be able to see Professor Matthias Ehrgott and Professor Judith Wang of Leeds University, for a lunch. I have dined with them even in Auckland, New Zealand, where they were faculty before coming to the UK. Professor Ehrgott has served as the Chair of the Management Science Department at Lancaster, the largest department of its kind in England!

A special thank you to Ms. Rosemary Hindley, who made the arrangements for me and the hospitality extended was exceptional and which I so much appreciated!

Other highlights (yes, I did a lot of lecturing (8 hours worth) but also a lot of eating, which kept my energy level high) included dinner at a Thai restaurant with Professor Pavlidis and his doctoral student, and dinner with two Distinguished University Professors: INFORMS Fellow Professor Kevin Glazebrook, the Director of STOR-i, and Professor Konstantinos Zografos, whom I have known for many years (and he received his PhD at the University of Connecticut and has been recognized with, among his awards, an engineering alumnus award). Professor Glazebrook drove us to the restaurant through the countryside, The Lunesdale Arms in Tunstall, where I had one of the most delicious meals in my life! A huge congratulations to Professor Glazebrook and his team for developing an exceptional doctoral training programme in operational research, which engages students with academics and industrial partners and practitioners.
I will be back in Lancaster, England in September and am truly honored to be giving a plenary talk then at the OR60 Conference! 

And, one of the best rewards of teaching, is inspiring students and I was so pleased to see that Alan F. Wise wrote an excellent blogpost on the Braess Paradox, after my Masterclass!  Coincidentally, I had had a very lovely communication with Professor Dietrich Braess himself, while I was in Europe. And, also, while in Europe, I heard from the renowned physicist, Professor Adilson Motter of Northwestern University, about the publication if his latest paper, which also discusses the Braess (and other related) paradoxes. This paper I thoroughly enjoyed reading after my return.

A big thank you also to all the airlines that carried me on 7 flights over 11 days: British Airways, Alitalia, and Aer Lingus.

Saturday, March 10, 2018

Impressions of and Photos from the Fabulous Variational Inequalities and Nash Equilibrium Conference in a Castle in Italy

As academics, we sometimes journey to conferences that take place in quite remote locations. And, what never fails to surprise me, is how doing so is so worth it! I believe that academics, driven by intellectual curiosity, always want to exchange ideas and to engage in discussions and, if you can do so in locations that are unique, then the inspirations drawn and experiences as well as the  memories can be exceptionally rewarding.

Today, I will be journeying to England, where I will be conducting a master class in Network Equilibrium at Lancaster University next week but, before I head to the airport, I thought it appropriate to prepare and share this blogpost.

First, I would like to express my sincerest appreciation to the organizers of the fantastic VINEPA (Variational Inequalities, Nash Equilibrium Problems and Applications) 2018 conference, which took place the past two days in Reggio Calabria, Italy. The venue was a castle and the views from the top of the castle are spectacular. One can see Sicily across part of the Mediterranean Ocean.

The organizers, who deserve a medal for this exceptional conference, were: Professors Sofia Giuffre', Patrizia Daniele, and Laura Scrimali. How appropriate that they are all females, given that the conference also coincided with International Women's Day!
I was invited to give a keynote at this conference and, since the theme of the conference is so perfect for my research, I had to accept.

The photo above is of the organizers and of a doctoral student of Professor Patrizia Daniele's, Gabriela Colojanni. We even have a joint paper now on cybersecurity, which is in press.

I enjoyed giving my keynote very much and in hearing all the great talks and discussions. The discussions were especially stimulating since the conference convened operations researchers, applied mathematicians, computer scientists, and even those working in areas of economics and engineering. Conferees came from Italy (of course), Denmark, Norway, Russia, Mexico, France, and the USA! Some journeyed for almost 40 hours to get to Reggio Calabria, which is in the "toe" part of the boot that is the shape of Italy.

Dr. Igor Konnov, in the photo above, presented me with his book.

The attention to detail by the organizers was outstanding, with delicious lunches, coffee breaks, a tour of the castle, and a multicourse banquet. Of course, I could not resist having a cannoli!

I am carrying back not only great research ideas but gifts from the organizers and several participants!
And, we all have new friendships and have renewed friendships!

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

An Operations Research Conference in a Castle in Italy

I arrived in Reggio Calabria, Italy yesterday afternoon after twenty hours of travel from Amherst, Massachusetts to Boston Logan and flights via British Airways to Heathrow and then onwards to Rome with the final leg via Alitalia. A big shoutout to both of these airlines for fabulous service and comfort.

Reggio Calabria is in (very) southern Italy and is located in the "toe part" of the boot shape that is Italy. One can see Sicily past the Mediterranean ocean and the journey was definitely worth it. I am here, thanks to the invitation of my wonderful colleagues, Professor Sofia Guiffre' of Reggio Calabria and Professor Patrizia Daniele of Catania. They are among my dear co-authors and our paper is now in press in the International Transactions in Operational Research (ITOR).  Coincidentally, while I was at the Rome airport, during a 3 hour layover - none other than the Editor of ITOR, Professor Celso Ribeiro, emailed me and told me that he, too, is now also in Europe - on sabbatical in (snowy) Oslo, Norway.

Tomorrow I will be giving a keynote talk at the VINEPA 2018 conference, which focuses on some of my methodological loves - variational inequalities and Nash Equilibria!

The venue of the conference is truly unique and, this morning, after an exquisite breakfast at my hotel with an amazing view,

I ambled to the conference venue which is a historic castle. I marched up to the top and took photos of the panorama.
On the second floor of the caste there was artwork and the staff was getting our space ready for the conference.
I couldn't resist snapping a photo of the one window in the conference room.

At the conference, I will see many operations research colleagues from various countries, some of whom I have not seen in quite a while, so I am very excited!

Thus far, I have managed to walk for miles (my cure for any jetlag) and walking along the Mediterranean with the astounding landscape, vegetation, architecture, and the kindness of the locals (more on this later)  make all the hard work on research (which is actually a joy in itself) worth it. Massachusetts is bracing for another snowstorm so I made it out, just in time!
I am a real tree hugger and the last time that I was so awe-struck by the vegetation of a country was when I gave a keynote talk in New Zealand. I have my favorite tree in Auckland. And, speaking of New Zealand, next week I will be at Lancaster University in England, giving a masterclass, and will see Professor Matthias Ehrgott, who is now on the faculty there and who was my host when I was in NZ!
The kindness of the Italians in Reggio Calabria is truly special. Not many speak English but that is not a problem, and, last evening, not only did a waiter run up to help me with my trenchcoat but another one treated me to a dessert from the selection below (of course, I chose one the chocolate ones).
I love watching the locals promenade along the beautiful mile walkway along the Mediterranean Ocean and also on the main street (which is for pedestrians only) and is filled with elegant shops. I marvel at the elegance of the people and how they acknowledge one another and (this must be the academic in me since we tend to fit anywhere) acknowledge me with a greeting.

The places that doing Operations Research can take you on our fascinating planet never fail to inspire.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

An Amazing Lecture: “A Day in the Life of an Ebola Treatment Center,” by a Medical Professional Extraordinaire

Ten days ago, we had the true honor of having a consummate medical professional, Ms. Deborah "Debbie" Wilson, speak to my Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare class at the Isenberg School of Management. On February 22, 2018, we were educated and deeply inspired when she delivered the outstanding lecture: “A Day in the Life of an Ebola Treatment Center.” Ms. Wilson is a nurse and recently received additional MSN/MPH degrees from Johns Hopkins University.

I had the pleasure of meeting Ms. Wilson a few years ago, and reached out to her after I read her very honest and provocative Letter to the Editor in The New York Times.

She also contributed a refereed chapter published in our Springer 2016 Dynamics of Disasters book, entitled: "Ode to the Humanitarian Logistician: Humanistic Logistics Through a Nurse’s Eye," which the students had read, as part of the course, and they were very excited to meet her in person! Ms. Wilson spent 6 weeks battling Ebola in Liberia in the Fall of 2014 and has also returned to the country to meet with nurses. You can read another writeup on her experiences here.
Her incredible work with Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), also known as Doctors Without Borders,  in extremely challenging healthcare environments brought out the critical importance of nursing as well as logistical support in patients' treatment and recovery from Ebola, along with the importance of understanding and being sensitive to the culture that one is working in.

She worked 12 hours a day, sweating profusely, while wearing PPE (personal protective equipment), to tend to her patients, one hour at a time. In fact, she inspired some of my recent research in game theory, freight service provision, and disaster relief with a case study on PPEs and Ebola.
During her time there, she subsisted primarily on white bread and french fries, and was involved in expanding the ETU (Ebola Treatment Unit) from 30 to 120 beds. The extremely challenging logistical issues included transport of needed supplies by air and boat, and over decrepit roads; the setting up of a water treatment facility and waste burning mechanisms, obtaining clean clothing for those who had recovered; the testing of the blood samples (initially it took 5 days); the preparation of body bags for burial (cremation is against the culture), to highlight just a few.

The impact that she made and her dedication to medical service around the world are extraordinary and she shared with us the photo of the smiling child below with a certificate of being cured of Ebola.
Interestingly, just three days before Ms. Wilson spoke in my class, BBC ran an article: "Life After Ebola,"which included many photos. We got to hear from someone who not only was there, but who saved lives, and has been back to focus on lessons learned.

Ms. Wilson answered numerous questions from the students.

Her courage, dedication, professionalism, and integrity are awe-inspiring and we are so grateful that she was able to give a lecture that we will never forget.

And a special thank you to my doctoral student, Mojtaba Salarpour, for taking the above photos since I had left my cellphone charging at home that day.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018

Teaching at Universities in Different Countries

Soon it will be spring break at UMass Amherst and, although it is still only February, the weather is milder and the days longer and quite pleasant in Massachusetts.

Rather than jetting somewhere warm during spring break for a nice holiday, like some of my students, most certainly, will be doing, I will be in England (and I  hope that the "beast from the east" has left by then and, along with it,  the snow and cold).

Last summer I received an invitation to teach a masterclass in England at Lancaster University and was able to arrange my masterclass, which is on Network Equilibrium, to coincide with my spring break. The masterclass consists of about 8 hours worth of lectures and will be given to Master's and PhD students in Operational (Operations Research) and Statistics. I was invited by Distinguished Professor of Operational Research Dr. Kevin Glazebrook and was honored and delighted that I could accept the invitation. I have been enjoying preparing my lectures and am very much looking forward to meeting students there and also seeing numerous fabulous colleagues in my field. STOR-i is the centre hosting my visit. I will be covering theory as well as numerous exciting applications in my masterclass!

The first time that I taught outside of the United States was back in 1996 when I received a Distinguished Visiting Professorship at KTH (the Royal Institute of Technology) in Stockholm, Sweden. One of the goals of that program was to increase the visibility of female academics. So, with family in tow, off we went to live in Sweden.  I thoroughly enjoyed having offices both in Systems Theory and Optimization and in Regional Planning. To get from one office to the other I hiked through the woods and crossed a river. I sometimes (actually, often) wondered what my daughter was doing in a Swedish daghes (daycare) while I taught a course and she dined on salmon and dilled potatoes and also learned how to climb trees and cliffs at a very young age! The 6 months we spent in Sweden were magical and I enjoyed teaching a class in optimization and networks. We returned to Stockholm, and lived at the Wenner Gren Centre, for extended periods multiple times. When an opportunity presented itself to be a Visiting Professor at the School of Business, Economics and Law at the University of Gothenburg (the second largest city in Sweden), I took it and in the last several years have had multiple visits there. I treasure my colleagues around the globe and the richness of the cultural experiences (plus food).

In 2002, I had a dream come true (my mother, who was a WW II refugee, always told me that if I had a chance to go to Innsbruck, Austria, that I should). I was offered a Distinguished Chaired Fulbright at SOWI at the University of Innsbruck, and, again, my family accompanied me since I not only did research (and elementary school children only go to school there for a few hours a day), but also taught a slew of courses.   The first time that the SOWI students hammered on their desks after a lecture of mine with their fists, I was wondering what I had done wrong. This is actually a sign that they enjoyed my lecture very much!

Tina Wakolbinger, who was one of my students there, graduated, worked for a year in Austria,  and then became my doctoral student at the Isenberg School of Management. She received her PhD in 2007, achieved Full Professor status in only 4 years and is now at the Vienna University of Economics and Business in Austria as a Professor of Supply Chain Services and Networks and Head of the Research Institute of Supply Chain Management.  Clearly, a big success story, and also an example of what can happen if you stretch your boundaries and teach in another country.  Tina invited me a few years ago to teach at her university, and I instructed an intense course on Humanitarian Logistics. A student in that course is now one of Tina's doctoral students.

From Sweden to Austria to Sweden and Austria and now soon off to England to teach and to acquire experiences that I share with my students back in the US!
Head of the Research Institute for Supply Chain Management
Head of the Research Institute for Supply Chain Management

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Puerto Rico and the Response to Hurricanes Irma and Maria - A Truly Inspiring Lecture by a MEMA Official

Today the students in my Humanitarian Logistics and Healthcare class at the Isenberg School had the great honor and privilege of hearing from a consummate professional and practitioner - Mr. Patrick Carnevale of MEMA (Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency). Mr. Carnevale presented a guest lecture in my class entitled, Puerto Rico 2017: Hurricanes Irma and Maria. He spoke about the weeks that he spent there in October assisting in the extremely challenging response.

His presentation was, honestly, lifechanging to all those in the audience. In fact, I just received a long email from a student in the class who wrote what is a beautiful tribute to him, and I quote just a part of it below:

The talk by Mr. Carnevale this morning was really touching and inspirational. It is not often that one encounters people like him who take pride in the work they do and are so emotionally attached because they care so much about the well-being of  the less fortunate. 

As an international student at UMass, since my first day, I have seen the country go through a major transformation (for the worse), but hearing Patrick today restores some faith in the good people that we are surrounded by and shows that there is some hope for the country as long as we have people like him working for us!

Mr. Carnevale has worked for MEMA for 17 years and he said that the hurricanes hitting Puerto Rico was the "most difficult" disaster to be part of. He worked 7 days a week there, 14 hours a day, and slept on an Italian cruise ship (don't ask him about the food or accommodations, a photo of the latter he shared with us), which was housing 2,500 of the responders. Puerto Rico in September had 3.4 million people and the temperature there was about 84 degrees with high humidity. The rainy season is April to November so the responders also had to deal with that. There are now 35,000 Puerto Ricans leaving the island monthly with the highest number of families now living in Massachusetts with additional challenges because of the housing stock and schools.

46% of the people in Puerto Rico lived in poverty even before the multiple hurricane strike. Moreover, the infrastructure already was subpar from the electric power networks to the roads and bridges.
Mr. Carnevale told us how the San Juan Convention Center was taken over by the federal government and served as a joint field office.. Although he stated that the coordination was OK, he found the bureaucratic forms and paperwork very much slowed down the delivery of the supplies, assuming that you could even find the contacts. He said that it took 3 days to schedule a mission because of this. In the field there were 1,500 representatives from the military, Homeland Security, VOADS, and urban search and rescue folks, and he was also in the field.

His mission was to lead  the central island coordination task force. MEMA was the second group on-site and he mentioned that the military had 180 helicopters, with the big ones able to carry 6 pallets of goods. There were many isolated communities to which trucks could not deliver baby supplies, food, water, and medicines. He spoke of a very useful federal app, known as MAGE,  that was helpful in mapping route disruptions, destroyed bridges, etc. His mission coordinated 587 flights and 32 ground trips.
The challenges the responders faced were immense and included challenges in communications: dealing with language barriers, limited cell phone services, and sporadic functioning of satellite phones because of congestion. Additional challenges were the constantly changing environmental conditions with new landslides and bridge outages.

He shared with us experiences and insights that you do not read about in the media and that were incredibly eye-opening!

He also spoke of the successes from relationship building to the delivery of supplies. ATM machines were not functioning so many responders carried cash and Mr. Carnevale also took part in "extraordinary examples of altruism" as my student so brilliantly wrote after hearing him speak today.
We thank Mr. Patrick Carnevale from the bottom of our hearts for his extraordinary work and that of his team and for his great humanity and for sharing his experiences and wisdom with us today. He is a true Humanitarian Hero!

And this afternoon, he was in Boston meeting with the Governor and Lt. Governor.