Areas of Focus
Before George Nemhauser retired in early January 2021 as the A. Russell Chandler III Chair and Institute Professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE), we sat down with him for a look back over his long career and many accomplishments.
Nemhauser – who now holds the title of Institute Emeritus Professor – arrived at Georgia Tech in 1985 as part of the academic changes at the Institute that led to its current preeminence. He’s not quite ready to leave Tech completely behind: Nemhauser is currently co-advising three ISyE Ph.D. students and is part of a large faculty group that is putting together an NSF grant proposal related to machine learning, artificial intelligence, and optimization.
He is also known for his sense of fun, with interests ranging from travel to sports, and those topics as well came up in our conversation.
When you look back on your remarkable career, what are you most proud of achieving?
That’s actually easy for me to answer. When I came to Georgia Tech, this was a different university in terms of its reputation and place in academia. It was a very good regional school, and I came here with the challenge of helping Tech develop into a great national research institution. I’ve always said that while engineering might lead the way, we couldn’t accomplish that with engineering alone – that we would also have to have good science, a good business school, and even good liberal arts. And just look at where we are today.
What’s something you did at Tech that people might not be aware of?
For many years, I was Georgia Tech’s faculty representative to the ACC for the NCAA. While I was never a great athlete, I’ve always been a big sports fan, so this was a fun opportunity to be involved that way. The person in that position is responsible for looking after the athletes’ academics. For Georgia Tech, it meant making sure that the athletes were not a completely separate group of students who didn’t have to live up to the academic standards of the Institute.
You found a way to incorporate sports into your academic career on several levels.
Yes; as a result of being the ACC liaison, I found my way into scheduling basketball games for the ACC. I was at an ACC meeting, and the assistant commissioner for basketball, Fred Barakat, mentioned that he was struggling to figure out the conference basketball schedule. He had been doing it by hand with no problem, but when TV contracts became more lucrative, different TV networks wanted certain games and all these constraints had been introduced into the process. At that point, I had been developing schedules for somemajor airlines in the U.S., so I mentioned to Fred that I could probably help him. A former ISyE student, Mike Trick (Ph.D. IE 1987) – who is now at Carnegie Mellon, had been scheduling baseball games, so I contacted Mike, and together we formed the Sports Scheduling Group. We scheduled lots of college sports leagues for a number of years, as well as Major League Baseball.
What changes or developments do you foresee in the field of operations research (OR)?
We’re becoming more and more of a data-driven society. And that’s what OR is all about: our economic way of life, our social way of life, everything. Whatever you can imagine, from transportation and finance to manufacturing. And OR practitioners are developing interesting and important models in response to that.
What’s the first thing you will do once you’ve officially retired?
My wife, Ellen, and I used to travel internationally for serious hiking but can’t do that so much anymore. Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, we would regularly go to New York City to attend the theatre and visit art museums. Obviously, we haven’t been able to do that this year, but as soon as it’s safe to do so, we will get back up there. We also have a house in the mountains of North Carolina. It’s really nice to be up there during the summer, when it’s so hot in Atlanta. And the winter, too – it has a great fireplace.
Any parting thoughts about ISyE?
ISyE is in a solid, healthy situation. It has good leadership and great young faculty. I have no doubt that the School has a bright future.
You can read a retrospective of Nemhauser's academic career and his extensive accomplishments, as well as retirement well-wishes from colleagues and former students here.