Operations Research at NC State

Operations Research is a joint graduate program shared by the College of Engineering and the College of Sciences at North Carolina State University.

The faculty who teach OR courses, supervise OR students, and administer the program have their academic appointments in a number of departments, not only in engineering and sciences but also in the colleges of management, forestry, and textiles. OR courses are cross-listed with other departments, and OR students have TA and RA positions in many departments, including departments of computer science, electrical and computer engineering, industrial and systems engineering, mathematics and statistics.

The program offers three advanced degrees: the Master of Operations Research (MOR) degree, the Master of Science (MSc) degree, and the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree.

What is Operations Research?

Operations Research (OR) is the use of scientific methodology to study systems whose design or operation require human decision making. OR provides the means for making the most effective decisions about systems design and operation. The strength and versatility of OR stems from its diagnostic power through observation and modeling, as well as from its prescriptive power through analysis and synthesis.

OR is interdisciplinary in nature, drawing on and contributing to the techniques from many fields, including mathematics and mathematical sciences, engineering, economics and the physical sciences. OR practitioners have successfully solved a wide variety of real-world problems, varying from the optimal design of telecommunications networks in the face of uncertain demand, to the planning for an optimal deployment of armed forces during wartime. Many new applications originate from current societal problems of energy production and distribution, environmental pollution control, health maintenance and software production.


Student Organizations

OR graduate students have the opportunity to join the student chapter of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences (INFORMS), which is a national association for academics and practitioners in OR, management science and related fields. The Omega Rho International Honor Society recognizes student scholarship and leadership in OR and related disciplines. Both organizations promote student professional development and governance and also offer opportunities for social interaction.


OR at NC State

Operations Research activities existed at NC State since 1963, first in the form of a couple of courses (an Introductory course, and a course on Linear Programming), then as a “minor” field of graduate study with a few more courses (in Nonlinear Programming, Dynamic Programming, Econometrics, and Special Topics). These activities were spearheaded by the departments of Statistics and Electrical Engineering, with support from Economics and Industrial Engineering. Between 1963 and 1970, graduate theses that may legitimately be labeled “OR” were written under the auspices of the sponsoring department, notably Statistics (for PhD dissertations) and Electrical Engineering and Industrial Engineering (for the MSc theses).

The Program as we know it now came “officially” into being on January 16, 1970, by a decree of the (now defunct) N.C. Board of Higher Education. That decree established two sister programs: one here at NCSU and the other at UNC at Chapel Hill, and authorized both to grant the master’s and doctorate’s degrees in OR. Since that date, OR has stood as a separate degree-granting graduate program, admitting its own students, establishing its own academic requirements, and awarding its own degrees under the auspices of the Graduate School.

Dr. Salah Elmaghraby was the founding director of the OR program at NC State. Dr. Elmaghraby was a force – extremely well known in the field. He stepped down as director after 20 years. Dr. Shu-Cherng Fang then took over the program in 1990 and handed over the program to Dr. W.J. (Bill) Stewart of Computer Science in 1995. In 2000, Dr. Fang was asked by the deans of COE, PAMS, and Graduate School to assume interim directorship to create a co-directorship with one co-director from COE and one from PAMS (now COS). Dr. Elmor L. Peterson of Mathematics and Dr. Xiuli Chao of Industrial Engineering were then appointed as the first co-directors in 2001. In 2003, Dr. Yahya Fathi of Industrial Engineering and Dr. Ralph Smith of Mathematics became co-directors, followed in 2004 by Dr. Hien Tran of Mathematics. Dr. Negash Medhin of Mathematics was co-director from 2005 to 2017. From Industrial Engineering, Drs. Thom J. Hodgson and Michael G. Kay were co-directors from 2010 to 2013, and 2013 to 2017, respectively. Starting in 2017, the program reverted to a single directorship, with Dr. Michael G. Kay acting as interim director.