What's Your StORy?

Aurélie Thiele

Aurelie Thiele

November 2016 What's Your StORy?
Associate Professor, Engineering Management, Information and Systems, Southern Methodist University, Dallas, TX

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graduation hat

How did you discover operations research?
My first semester as a graduate student at MIT, I signed up for the legendary “Urban Operations Research” course taught by Professors Richard Larson and Arnold Barnett (Prof. Amedeo Odoni, who usually co-taught the course, was on sabbatical that year). I remember learning about queueing systems by analyzing where to position ambulances to best serve a community. This was long before the trend of doing good with good O.R. It amazed me that we could advance the public good using math models. I’ve loved O.R. ever since.


What do you think is next for operations research?
I think the most successful academic programs in O.R. are moving toward more tightly integrating classroom learning with real practical experience through high-touch mentoring. Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs) have only highlighted the hunger of participants for real, pointed feedback from a live person who knows them by name and challenges them to their individual edge. MOOCs are a useful backup option, as well as a marketing tool. I also think O.R. will be paired more and more with ethical decision making, and I’m not just saying that because I work at a university founded by the Methodist Church. As we are moving toward big data and prescriptive analytics, we have a duty to use our knowledge of math in a responsible way.


What has surprised you the most about your recent move to Dallas?
So many local companies do cutting-edge work in O.R., from American Airlines to Capital One to Southwest to BNSF to Humana. Toyota is bringing its U.S. headquarters to nearby Plano, TX. AT&T is headquartered in Dallas, too. It is exciting to leverage this thriving economic scene, especially given the size of the Southern Methodist University network in the Dallas area, to bring more hands-on learning opportunities in OR/MS for our students. Also, from a personal standpoint, I was stunned by how much great art and music there is, as well as excellent restaurants and, since it’s the second fastest growing metropolitan area in the country, plenty of “transplants.”


Tell us about your first and favorite INFORMS meetings.
My first INFORMS meeting was the Revenue Management Conference at Columbia University in June 2001 in New York City. My first Annual Meeting was in Atlanta the following year. I still remember the long waits in front of the elevator banks.

My favorite INFORMS meeting is the Analytics conference every year in April. No matter the location, I love the format with longer industry-focused talks about OR techniques that have generated clear impact for companies.


What are the best books you’ve read this year?
Follies of God: Tennessee Williams and the Women of the Fog by James Grissom; One Man Against the World: The Tragedy of Richard Nixon by Tim Werner; and The White Album: Essays by Joan Didion.


Do you have any advice for new INFORMS members?
Join an INFORMS section, subdivision, or an interest group. Get involved. I’ve been blessed to make very good friends in WORMS, for instance, and I’ve met a lot of wonderful folks on the organizing committee of the Analytics meeting that I would never have known otherwise.


How do you pronounce your name?
o-ray-LEE TEE-l. A wise teenager at a gas station in Pennsylvania where I was buying bus tickets (long story) once told me that the “problem” with my name is that it has too many vowels. He had a point. I’m not sure if my name achieves the maximum vowels-to-consonants ratio out there but it has to come quite close.