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Jacobson Earns Two Awards, Shines a Light on Achievements at Illinois CS

11/12/2020 2:59:07 PM Aaron Seidlitz, Illinois CS

Upon learning that he had won two important awards from his primary professional society, INFORMS, Illinois CS professor Sheldon Jacobson took a moment to reflect.

He remembered first joining INFORMS – a leading international association for Operations Research and Analytics professionals – as a PhD student in the mid-1980s. During the years since, he came to understand the meaningful nature of both awards he earned on Wednesday at the 2020 INFORMS Virtual Annual Meeting; the George E. Kimball Medal and the Saul Gass Expository Writing Award.

Sheldon Jacobson
Sheldon Jacobson

While he felt honored, Jacobson said the true impact of each award has more to do with its effect on others than on his own career.

“I’ve been in academics for more than 30 years now. I don’t need awards for myself or for my career. But there is a purpose to winning awards like this. To me, that comes down to shining a positive light on the amazing work we do at Illinois CS,” Jacobson said. “There has to be some way to measure what we’re doing as academics, and awards are a currency that recognizes the benefits of our work in the eyes of our peers.  So, for me, these awards are for the department, The Grainger College of Engineering and the University of Illinois.”

This is also proof that INFORMS turned out to be the right professional society for him.

Jacobson said he attends each annual meeting on a yearly basis. He has often published his research in its well-respected journals. In 2013, he became an INFORMS Fellow, and later earned election as its national treasurer.

Additionally, he was previously recognized by INFORMS alongside three of his former PhD students with the INFORMS Impact Prize. This award honored applications of operations research that make a tremendous impact on society or on the academic field.

Sheldon Jacobson accepts the 2020 George E. Kimball Medal.

The entirety of his INFORMS experience led to the George E. Kimball Medal - an award that recognizes “distinguished service to the Institute and to the profession of operations research and the management sciences.”

“I’m honored by the George E. Kimball Medal for many reasons," Jacobson said. "I'm especially honored because it’s focused on the difference we make in the lives of others. I believe in doing everything I can on behalf of this community and this institute, because the work does make a difference in people’s lives."

Meanwhile, the Saul Gass Expository Writing Award acknowledges the superb academic work of its namesake.

Jacobson produced research published through INFORMS journals that influenced the TSA Precheck program. This work, he said, formed part of the reason why he earned this award.

“Saul Gass exemplified excellence when it comes to expository writing,” Jacobson said. “Fittingly, the award in his name considers a person’s work in this area over a long period of time. That allows us all to see who demonstrates a quality of writing that influences the field."

Besides impactful research papers, Jacobson has also produced many op-eds and media interviews. This effort, he believes, helps breaks down “complicated computer science matters in a very-easy to understand way.”

In addition to the work he's accomplished with INFORMS, Jacobson knows the experience with a society includes the people.

Professional connections through INFORMS led him to lifelong friendships with fellow academics. This includes Edward H. Kaplan – the William N. and Marie A. Beach Professor of Operations Research at the Yale School of Management.

These two not only bonded over their experience in the industry, but through their shared allegiance to the Montreal Canadiens hockey club.

Jacobson also remains connected to Michael Fu, Smith Chair of Management Science at the University of Maryland. This friendship became so close that Fu also attended Jacobson’s wedding.

These industry connections through INFORMS also help in his current role with INFORMS as a liaison with the National Science Foundation (NSF). Jacobson enjoys connecting his Illinois CS students with NSF grant opportunities, fellowships and other professional connections.

“Many academics like to pretend that we live in a vacuum inside of our office, conducting research. But it’s not that way; rather our success is very much dependent on other people,” Jacobson said. “A professional society like INFORMS facilitated interactions that have meant so much to me over the years.

“My hope now is that these same connections can positively affect our students as they pursue their own new and incredible ideas.”