Prestigious INFORMS UPS George D. Smith Prize for the Industrial and Applied Mathematics Master programme of TU/e

By Dr. Alessandro Di Bucchianico and Prof. Maria Vlasiou

The department of Mathematics and Computer Science of the Eindhoven University of Technology (TU/e) has been awarded the 2022 INFORMS UPS George D. Smith Prize for its Master’s programme Industrial and Applied Mathematics (IAM) , thus being the first programme outside North America to ever win this prize.

Announcing the award, INFORMS praised IAM for representing “the best in developing an ecosystem of industrial and academic partners.” IAM is among a few select programmes globally. The first three winners were the University of Michigan, the Naval Postgraduate School, and MIT, all located in USA. The jury, in their citation, recognises that IAM “promotes an individualized educational experience while ensuring a high level of technical, communication, and industrial skills.”

The application was led by Prof. Maria Vlasiou, who also represented TU/e in the finalists’ phase. She shared her passion for the programme with the jury and defended the unique concepts that distinguish IAM from other leading programmes around the globe. Prof. Vlasiou accepted the award on behalf of IAM during a ceremony at the annual INFORMS Business Analytics Conference in Houston, Texas

The fabric of IAM

Over the past 20 years, TU/e has offered a special master programme dedicated to the important field of operations research. The programme aims to prepare students to become experts in tackling and solving problems in technology and industry from a mathematical perspective.

Part of the excellence of the programme comprises characteristics shared by any elite programme. Excellence in education goes hand-in-hand with excellence in research. The department has outstanding active researchers. TU/e has always played a pivotal role in operations research and analytics, with pioneers like Edsger Dijkstra, father of the shortest path algorithm that is in the core of modern navigation, and Jacques Benders, the architect of Benders decomposition designed to divide and conquer linear programming problems. IAM offers students personal attention. Internships and final theses are always closely supervised individual efforts. Students have a personal mentor who serves as a guide and sounding board.

IAM benefits from structures that exist nationally and internationally. Being part of a European university, students can participate in the Erasmus Mundus programme, choosing among the 20 established collaborations, and may fulfil all criteria for an ECMI certificate. In the Netherlands, Mastermath is the joint effort of all Departments of Mathematics in the country to enhance their master programmes in mathematics. A selection of Master courses are offered on a national level, jointly by all departments. These joint courses offer students the highest quality of instruction and open up opportunities for interaction with students of other institutes of mathematics. For students who intend to pursue a PhD programme after completing their master’s programme, the national programme increases the range of options open to them. In addition to Mastermath, national graduate schools offer PhD-level courses in different specialisations.

The unique concepts of IAM

IAM has been built around some unique concepts. “IAM is one of few mathematics programs in the Netherlands with a distinct applied signature”, says Dr. Alessandro Di Bucchianico, director of the programme. “It gives flexibility to students to develop themselves not only as a researcher, but also as an industrial engineer or a professional in education.”

IAM offers an individual study programme. The obligatory components of the programme are only two: the Professional Portfolio course and the final thesis. This gives students the freedom to shape their future. Within the programme, mentors work closely with students to help shape a programme that aligns with their interests and strengths. IAM offers sample profiles that give guidance on how to navigate all these choices.

The Professional Portfolio course is a unique concept. The course is set up to prepare future professionals. At the end of the course, graduates have built a portfolio of projects, have links and personal contacts with different companies, have been given information on the various directions in the programme or studies abroad, have established contacts with alumni, and have followed workshops on soft skills. A highlight of the course is its Modelling Week, modelled after the ECMI international modelling weeks. The course embodies the spirit of the INFORMS UPS George D. Smith award by strengthening ties between academia and industry and fully preparing the future practitioners.

Last, the programme focuses on impact and actualises this with fostering close ties to industrial and societal partners. IAM benefits greatly from the unique ecosystem of high-tech companies located in Eindhoven, i.e. the Brainport region. Collaboration with industry starts from the first semester of academic education and continues well after graduation. Being located in the Brainport region also offers graduates career opportunities that are hard to find elsewhere. In addition to internships and involvement in final projects, third parties are a vital asset of the curriculum. For example, every year a fresh batch of current, urgent societal and industrial problems are presented to students during the Modelling Week. Industrial partners bring a continuous renewal to the programme. While the fundamentals of mathematical science remain constant, their application to societal problems is always current.

Celebration at TU/e

Named in honour of the late UPS Chief Executive Officer – a champion of Operations Research at a leading Fortune 500 corporation – the prize is created in the spirit of strengthening ties between industry and the schools of higher education that graduate young practitioners of Operations Research. This international award is seen as one of the most important in recognising excellence in the  education of Industrial and Applied mathematics. It is awarded for the past 10 years to an academic department or programme for an effective and innovative preparation of students to become practitioners Operations Research or Analytics.

“We are honoured to receive the UPS George D. Smith Prize from INFORMS,” says Di Bucchianico. “It’s a tribute to our department, to our students and to all those behind the scenes that have made our school worthy of this award.”

Dr. Elena Gerstmann at TU/e

Therefore, in November last year, it was time for a celebration in Eindhoven, with guests from USA, students, staff members, and partners from industry. During the festive programme, Vlasiou sketched the path to the award, highlighting the application, nomination, and finalist phases. Ranganath Nuggehalli, Principal Scientist at UPS USA, gave the audience a glimpse of the history and importance of the award. Programme Director Di Bucchianico focused on the future development and focus of the programme.

The event featured about 10 national and international companies with ties to Eindhoven, who presented their business and need for Operations Research analysts. Students had the opportunity to later network and find opportunities for internships and placements. INFORMS Executive Director, Dr. Elena Gerstmann, emphasized how INFORMS believes that operations research should be applied to help solve economic as well as social issues. “Use math for good,” Gerstmann says: “Math doesn’t just save money, it can also solve major issues and save lives.”

Maria Vlasiou, head of the IAM prize nomination, Elena Gerstmann, Executive Director INFORMS, Andrea Fuster, Deputy Programme Director Mathematics, Alessandro Di Bucchianico, Programme Director Mathematics, Edwin van den Heuvel, Dean of the department of Mathematics and Computer Science at TU/e, Ranganath Nuggehalli, Principal Scientist UPS USA.