Georgia Tech Professor Pinar Keskinocak assumed the presidency of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS) in January 2020. Keskinocak is the William W. George Chair and professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE), a College of Engineering ADVANCE professor, and the director of the Center for Health and Humanitarian Systems (CHHS) at Georgia Tech.
In some ways, this office represents the pinnacle of Keskinocak’s longstanding service to INFORMS, which began when she was a junior faculty member. Since then, she has served on the INFORMS board as both vice president of membership and professional recognition and secretary; co-founder and president of the Junior Faculty Interest Group Forum and Pubic Sector Operations Research Section; and president of the Women in OR/MS Forum and the Health Applications Society. She also has served as an officer of other INFORMS sections, on the editorial boards of several journals, and as chair of both the Doctoral Colloquium and Nicholson Paper Competition.
Keskinocak has been serving as president-elect of INFORMS since January 2019. After her presidency in 2020, she will remain on the executive board for one year as past president. In this interview, she discusses her goals for INFORMS’ growth, outreach, and impact.
As an ISyE faculty member, you’re very busy – teaching, researching, directing CHHS. Given this, why are you also committed to active involvement in INFORMS?
INFORMS is the largest professional society for our field. As an organization that has both academic and non-academic members, it is a community influencing the current and future impact of our field in education, research, and practice. I care about the impact our work can have on society and businesses, and for that reason, it is important for me to contribute as much as I can.
What are some of your goals for your presidency?
There are several exciting areas I would like to focus on.
Our membership has been strong and growing for a number of years. I believe we can further extend our reach in terms of attracting and retaining student members, as well as practice members. One way to do this to reach out to younger generations and share information about our field. Middle school and high school students may have no awareness of the exciting career opportunities available to them through operations research and analytics. INFORMS has a history of successful K-12 outreach, and I hope we will continue to build on that, as well as continuing our outreach to undergraduate and graduate student members.
Historically, we have seen engagement and collaborations between our academic and practice members. There’s an opportunity to increase such interactions by building more and stronger bridges between academia and practice. There are many practitioners whose work involves operations research or analytics. But they may not be engaged with INFORMS – or even if they are, their engagement might be primarily with practice members. So, we still have opportunities to increase engagement and collaborations between academia and practice (including industry and government), considering what academia might offer to positively impact practice, and the challenging problems faced by practitioners to spur new research and innovation.
While INFORMS’ engagement with industry has been strong, we can build on our policy impact by increasing our engagement with governmental and non-governmental agencies (NGOs). This continues to be another growth area for the organization – domestically and internationally. We have the opportunity to tackle some of the most complex problems facing humanity, and we need to be connecting more to the decision-makers, so that when they have issues that require data-driven analytical approaches, they think of and reach out to INFORMS and its members.
We also have opportunities to further diversify our membership base and enhance our culture of inclusivity. The STEM fields generally face challenges in diversity and inclusion, and INFORMS is no exception, though as an organization, we have made significant strides. For example, we established a diversity, equity, and inclusion committee, ethics guidelines, and a code of conduct.
The INFORMS board just approved a new initiative proposal to establish an INFORMS Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Ambassadors Program. These ambassadors, both individually and collectively, will work on initiatives to improve DEI within the broader INFORMS community. We are very excited about the possibilities for this program, which is open to all INFORMS members and staff.
What is most exciting to you about this opportunity to serve as president?
INFORMS is an amazing organization and has been on a positive trajectory for several years. Just look at our performance metrics in terms of our membership, participation in our conferences, our journals, the quality and number of journal articles published, and how these articles are consumed by readers. So this is a fantastic time for INFORMS – we can communally be proud of it. Our current position of strength gives us opportunities to take some bigger leaps.
You’re obviously a systems thinker. How will that contribute to your role as INFORMS president?
We definitely need to be implementing the OR and analytical techniques we use in our day to day research and work into INFORMS operations. For some of these future goals and also current initiatives, the pieces all need to fit together. Our portfolio includes conferences, journals, sections and societies, etc. When we take action in one area, it has impact and implications for the others as well. That’s where the systems thinking becomes important: Considering our actions and strategies not in isolation for each part of our portfolio, but synergistically, to make progress in line with our overarching goals. Of course progress can only happen with the synergistic collaborations between our amazing staff, members, and our external constituents. As a famous African proverb states, “Go alone if you want to go fast; go together if you want to go far.”
After your presidency, what will your future involvement in INFORMS look like?
I have always been committed to INFORMS, and I envision my involvement will continue beyond 2020-21, via journal editorial boards, outreach, etc. I am also excited about the new DEI Ambassadors program and hope to contribute to its progress and success moving forward. INFORMS is an incredible organization. I am grateful to be a member, and I encourage and invite everyone to engage.
H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering