Yesterday evening I got back from the INFORMS 2012 Analytics conference, which was held in Huntington Beach, CA. I wanted to post this earlier, but things got hectic at Lehigh with my meeting with the project sponsor for the analytical finance projects, the Spencer Schantz luncheon and lectures, which honored Lehigh ISE alumnus and Stanford emeritus professor Arthur (Pete) Veinott, and the annual ISE banquet, which honored both Veinott as 2012 Distinguished Alum for Excellence in Academia and Lehigh ISE alumnus Tim Wilmott as 2012 Distinguished Alum for Excellence in Industry.
(I also have two Master theses to edit before tomorrow evening/Saturday morning, at which point they have to be in my department chair's inbox for reading and approval before next Friday's deadline in the Registrar's Office... the last problem of the quiz in my financial optimization course to grade... the project and the last homework to upload... an overdue review... several papers that are past their revision deadlines... and those are only the things that need to happen before Monday. Oh, the end of the semester.)
Anyway, I know I owe this blog a "GoodSemester, Part 2" blog post, but that will have to wait for next week. For today, I'll write about the Analytics conference. I've been to this conference once before, in 2009 when it was called the "Practice Conference" and was held in Phoenix. I wouldn't have attended this year - it is a really good conference but it is really expensive too and the timing in the semester wasn't great - if the ISE department at Lehigh hadn't been named finalist for the UPS George D Smith Prize on the strengths of the application I wrote.
Prof Terlaky, Prof Gustafson and Rob Rappa '11 '12G came along to the conference and presented the department case with me to the judging committee. Our application was for the whole ISE department and included our bachelor's, master's and doctoral programs. The other finalists were Cornell IEOR's M.Eng program and the certificate program of the Tauber School for Global Operations at the University of Michigan. Michigan won. Many thanks to the judges for the time they spent evaluating the submissions - for this award and others, as some did double duty on the Edelman or INFORMS Prize Committees. Their commitment to INFORMS is truly inspiring.
The conference was a resounding success from beginning to end, even if I had to stop by Lehigh on my way to the airport to make copies of my quiz solutions for my teaching assistant, so that she could proctor the exam and grade her part while I was gone (just-in-time operations at their finest). I landed in Orange County late on Saturday, after a "flight" from ABE to EWR that is actually a trip down Route 78 on a tiny bus [the type of the bus you take at the airport to go to the economy parking lot - it is apparently more reliable than operating a flight into EWR for such a short distance, and it leaves outside the airport at ABE so you and your carry-on luggage only go through security at EWR, although your checked-in luggage is screened at ABE] and a flight from EWR to SNA, aka John Wayne Airport.
Because I had made my hotel reservation late to the conference hotel - the Huntington Beach Hyatt Resort and Spa - due to learning late that Lehigh was a finalist for the award, the conference block had been sold out for the first and last nights of my reservation and I was supposed to change rooms 3 times in 4 nights. I showed up Saturday night and started explaining to the young employee at the check-in counter how it would be a great plus in my life if by any chance he could find a way to make me stay in the same room for all four nights... The teenage kid raised an eyebrow and said: "oh, we fixed your reservation. Of course we're not going to have you change rooms in the middle of your stay!" That's customer service to you.
My enthusiasm for the Hyatt hotel chain further skyrocketed when I saw the enormous room I'd been put in. As some of you know, my family used to be very poor so even now that we've pulled ourselves out of that, I can get excited like a little kid for expensive things at bargain prices. The room rates weren't cheap to begin with, but I could tell immediately that the rate of that room was much higher than what I was paying for. I glanced outside and saw palm trees outside my balcony, a courtyard and a fountain (it was dark so I couldn't see much). I thought the view was nice and forgot about it until the next morning, when I opened the curtains and realized I actually had a view of the beach and the Pacific Ocean, and I don't mean far in the distance. From that point on, that conference could be nothing but a success in my eyes! The staff at the Hyatt was extremely courteous and professional; the food was delicious. The hotel has received extremely high ratings on Google Reviews and I can say with full confidence that it deserves every single one of them.
But back to the conference, since that's why I had come all the way to California for. It provided us (the Lehigh team) with great opportunities to connect with companies, and I also enjoyed the excellent talks I attended,
- from Intel's entry as a finalist to the Edelman competition,
- to the winning presentation in the Innovation in Analytics competition (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement with Booz Allen Hamilton - a fascinating topic),
- to "Smarter Analytics in Insurance" presented by the head of the IBM group on advanced analytics and optimization (our Lehigh student Rob Rappa was thrilled to talk to him afterwards, since that group would be a perfect match for his skills),
- to the work Lehigh's recent graduate Ana Alexandrescu '10 '11G did for her Master's thesis on "Comparison of Risk Prediction Models for Home Health", which was presented by her supervisor at Bayada Home Health Care since she couldn't attend due to her new job.
I also enjoyed the keynote by eBay's Vice President for Analytics Platform, the informative lunches and the great networking opportunities. Lehigh's recent graduate Nick Kastango '09 was part of the Memorial Sloan Kettering team that got recognized with the INFORMS Prize and I'm looking forward to hearing his presentation next year. I'm also looking forward to hearing TNT Express present at the annual meeting in the fall the work they received the prestigious Edelman award for. Since they were recently bought by UPS (another company that values analytics), it is nice for them to show they bring significant value to their new parent company.
The conference was extremely well-organized and ran very smoothly thanks to the tireless efforts of our dedicated INFORMS staff Paulette Bronis, Sandi Owens and many others. Thanks to you all for another great event. See you in Phoenix in the fall!