Posted: 1/8/03

San Jose Award Presentations
Ryan Educates, Inspires OR/MS Practitioners

David M. Ryan, professor of operations research at the University of Auckland, was presented the INFORMS Prize for the Teaching of OR/MS Practice, for "inspiring and educating a generation of successful OR/MS practitioners in New Zealand and throughout the world."

Committee Chair Richard E. Rosenthal, who presented the honor at the INFORMS meeting in San Jose, said the selection process was both "difficult" because of the number of strong nominations, and "heartening" because it "means there are many great teachers out there."

In accepting the honor, Ryan noted that 30 years ago, after completing eight years of university education in mathematics, he had yet to see a "real application of mathematics in my life." All of that changed when he received a post-doc fellowship to work with an OR group in England that successfully tackled a bulk carrier fleet scheduling problem. The project not only saved the OR group from the budget axe, it actually made money.

Ryan said the experience made him "realize there is an enormous gulf between academic and scientific research, and the uptake of this research by business and industry. I believe strongly that it's we, the OR researchers, who have the responsibility to bridge this gap and be involved in the technology transfer."

Upon his return to New Zealand in 1975, Ryan said he made it his mission to actively promote the importance of the real world in motivating OR research, a goal he shared with his colleagues and students.

Reading the awards citation, Rosenthal said that under Ryan's leadership, "the University of Auckland attracted world-class faculty and developed superb graduate and undergraduate programs in operations research. The hallmark of the group is research and teaching driven by real problems, standing on a tripod of theory, practice and implementation. In Professor Ryan's approach to OR education, real problems are used to motivate methodology that is introduced with humor, intuition and rigor. As one student put it, 'in virtually every lecture, he would mention some of the real applications he was working on, while still presenting the material in a rigorous manner. We learned the mathematical concepts, what they mean and how they are used.' "

Many of Professor Ryan's former students are OR practitioners in industry, and a few are themselves teachers of OR practice. "They all cite his infectious passion and boundless enthusiasm as instrumental in their educational and career choices," Rosenthal said. "Some credit him for introducing their firms to OR and creating their job opportunities. Former students frequently come back to his classes to describe their work, pose new problems and encourage current students to work in the area. Five of his former students have won the Operational Research Society of New Zealand's Young Practitioner Prize."

One senior executive who employs Ryan's students remarked that "the caliber of Professor Ryan's students is such that they can contribute significantly to our business straight from their studies."

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