Nov. 5, 2018
A Darla Moore School of Business faculty member has won one of the most prestigious awards in the operations research and management science (OR/MS) field. Sanjay Ahire, professor of operations and supply chain management and co-director of the Moore School’s Operations and Supply Chain Center, was awarded 2018 INFORMS Prize for the Teaching of OR/MS Practice on Nov 4.
The Institute for Operations Research and Management Science (INFORMS) is the premier professional organization in the OR/MS field, with researchers and practitioners from more than 90 countries. This global prize is awarded annually to a university or college teacher who has demonstrated excellence in the teaching of OR/MS. Previous winners have come from elite institutions like Stanford and Dartmouth. Ahire has invested 20 years of his career to developing programs and opportunities for students to apply classroom principles to real-world, practical projects.
In 2006, Ahire was hired at the University of South Carolina to spearhead the Moore School’s operations and supply chain program, after his successes with similar initiatives at the University of Dayton and Indiana University South Bend. He has seen the program grow from a small cohort of 25 to one today that has more than 650 students.
“Not only the numbers have grown, but also the quality of the outcomes has grown,” Ahire said.
Students in Ahire’s capstone consulting class and businesses process management class provide client organizations from manufacturing, healthcare, insurance, food banks and retail sectors with professional quality consulting projects, via faculty led student consulting teams. During his tenure at USC, Ahire has found that these projects are often comparable to services otherwise provided by professional consulting firms. His students have worked on projects for major organizations like Atrium Health, Cummins, Eaton, Johnson & Johnson, Palmetto Health, McLeod Health, PwC, Siemens, Sonoco and Walmart. He has also mentored projects for numerous non-profits, including Harvest Hope Food Banks, Ronald McDonald’s House of Charity and South Carolina HIV-AIDS Council.
He emphasizes that these consulting projects are not “toy projects,” but professional grade work that benefits real-world clients.
“These projects really contribute to client organizations’ efforts in streamlining processes, reducing costs, improving competitiveness and even making a positive difference in the lives of a vulnerable population,” Ahire said. “That kind of feedback and validation of a 21-year-old’s capabilities is unheard of.”
The root of these consulting projects is directly related to Ahire’s teaching philosophy. He emphasizes the importance of hands-on work experience early in a student’s college career before they even enter the workforce.
“You have to actually get in there and start contributing on day one. You cannot drive by just reading the drivers manual — you have to get on the road and start driving.” Ahire said.
For many undergraduate students, this can be an intimidating challenge. However, Ahire makes it a priority to work with students during every step of the process.
“If you are in training, you can’t have the keys to the car alone – you have an instructor sitting by you,” he said. “So that’s where I am, on the ground floor of every one of our experiential learning engagements that our students have.”
Ahire has spent many weekends in teamwork sessions, staying up all night with students before major deadlines. For many projects, he spent days working with his teams at Johnson & Johnson’s blood testing products manufacturing plant in New Jersey helping them understand the processes and collect data. It is this commitment and enthusiasm for his students that is often unparalleled.
Ahire also credits his team of colleagues for their contributions. “We all work hard together with the common goal of making our students the best in our field,” he said.
In 2008, he launched the Sonoco-USC Lean Six Sigma Green Belt Certification Initiative, and in 2012 he became the first tenured university professor to be certified as a Six Sigma Master Black Belt by the American Society for Quality.
Over his career, Ahire has mentored or co-mentored his students in over 250 consulting projects.
For him, the most rewarding part is “having the students gain confidence in the skills and in the tools and the concepts that they learn.”
“It’s much beyond just projects and teaching classes,” Ahire said. “It is like when your own kids move out and conquer the world.”
By Jenna Schiferl