In Memoriam: Shabbir Ahmed
Shabbir Ahmed, the Anderson-Interface Chair and professor in Georgia Tech’s H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering (ISyE), passed away on June 19, 2019. Ahmed was a valued ISyE faculty member who made important contributions to optimization theory, methodology, and applications.
“Shabbir was a leader in both ISyE and the optimization community and will be remembered for the significant impact he made in his field. He had a brilliant research and teaching career, but more importantly, he was a dear friend and a generous colleague,” said ISyE School Chair Edwin Romeijn. “He was taken from us far too soon, and he will be missed.”
In particular, Ahmed led the way in integrating two challenging methodologies – stochastic and integer programming – that are essential for solving problems in energy distribution, supply chain, transportation, and finance. His most-cited paper, “A Stochastic Programming Approach for Supply Chain Network Design under Certainty,” has over 960 citations on Google Scholar. This was the first paper that designed methodology for solving large-scale stochastic supply chain design problems with a huge number of scenarios by integrating the sample average approximation scheme with an accelerated Benders decomposition algorithm.
From the earliest days of his academic career, Ahmed won accolades for his groundbreaking ideas. He received the INFORMS Dantzig Dissertation Award (2000) and a CAREER Award from the National Science Foundation (2002).
Ahmed joined ISyE in 2000, where recognition of his accomplishments continued. He received the IBM Faculty Award in both 2002 and 2005, the 2017 INFORMS Computing Society Prize, and the 2018 Farkas Prize from the INFORMS Optimization Society. In 2014 he was appointed both as an ISyE Stewart Faculty Fellow and a College of Engineering Dean’s Professor. He was a Senior Member of IEEE and an INFORMS Fellow.
“Shabbir’s expertise had both depth and breadth,” noted A. Russell Chandler III Chair and Institute Professor George Nemhauser, who worked closely with Ahmed on optimizing inventory and logistics problems. “He could work in so many areas, and his impact was large as a result. While some people are experts in theory and others in application, Shabbir put it all together.”
In addition to academic rigor, Ahmed was regarded as a gracious collaborator and mentor. Over the course of his career, Ahmed advised a number of award-winning undergraduate Senior Design teams, as well as 26 Ph.D. students, including current student Beste Basciftci.
“As Professor Ahmed’s Ph.D. student, I was very fortunate to have the unique opportunity and honor to work with him since beginning my graduate work in 2015,” Basciftci said. “I remember my excitement the day I was accepted to the ISyE Ph.D. program and Professor Ahmed contacted me for research opportunities in his group. He was a brilliant advisor, mentor, and role model. He was a preeminent leader in operations research, and he will be missed dearly.”
“His personal impact on me was profound, first as a professor and then later as a colleague, and he was instrumental in my coming back to ISyE,” said Leo and Louise Benatar Early Career Professor and Associate Professor Alejandro Toriello, who completed his Ph.D. at ISyE and co-authored his first graduate paper with Ahmed. “Shabbir was incredibly generous with his time, and for such a star, he was so humble and so kind.”
Ahmed earned a B.Eng. in mechanical engineering from Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology in 1993, and his M.S. and Ph.D. in industrial engineering from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign in 1997 and 2000, respectively.
He was devoted to his family and is survived by his wife, Rasha, and two daughters, Raeeva and Umana.
ISyE has established a graduate fellowship in Ahmed’s honor. If you are interested in contributing to this fellowship’s endowment, please contact ISyE Director of Development Nancy Sandlin at firstname.lastname@example.org or 404.385.7458.
Additionally, Distressed Children & Infants International is an organization dear to Ahmed and his family, and a contribution to this organization in Ahmed’s honor would be greatly appreciated.
“Shabbir was typically the earliest faculty member to arrive at ISyE each morning. When I was first hired at Georgia Tech, I thought that if such a successful and well-established scientist showed up that early, I should probably show up even earlier! I gave up the day I arrived on campus at 6 AM and saw that Shabbir was already here. He was not only an excellent scholar but also one of the nicest people I have ever met. He was very kind about sharing his time with everyone, especially junior faculty. He made a big impact on many of us.”
- Turgay Ayer, George Family Foundation Early Career Professor and associate professor, ISyE
“On behalf of the Operations Research Center at MIT and myself, I am sending you our deepest condolences for the passing of Shabbir. Shabbir was a superb scientist and person, he had many things to contribute to the world, and he left us way too early. Words cannot express the sadness I feel.”
- Dimitris Bertsimas, Boeing Leaders for Global Operations Professor, MIT Operations Research Center
“I worked with Shabbir for two years, and not only was he a smart and ambitious faculty member but equally a compassionate and gracious person. I’ll cherish the time we worked together.”
- Jeff Caimano, financial manager, ISyE
“I will remember Shabbir as a very kind soul. He was always so pleasant and just a joy to work with. His presence will surely be missed.”
- Lisa Cox, HR administrative manager, ISyE
“As a junior ISyE faculty member, working with Shabbir broadened my thinking about solving problems in discrete optimization. I would be working through a particularly difficult problem, and he would encourage me to stick with it and consider the problem from a different angle. He always made me feel like I could succeed.”
- Santanu Dey, associate professor, ISyE
“Shabbir and I have collaborated over the past few years on research topics aimed at bridging the gap between two very fundamental areas in industrial engineering: industrial data analytics and decision optimization. Shabbir’s contributions in the area of stochastic programming have consistently been groundbreaking. Our goal was to augment conventional stochastic optimization with real-time sensor data obtained from industrial machinery and equipment. Our focus was on optimizing operations and maintenance of power generation networks. Shabbir’s expertise was the key that allowed various members of our research group to contribute across a very wide range of decision-making levels, starting with local decisions pertaining to the operation of multiple generators on a power network, all the way up to strategic decisions related to long-term investment portfolios related to energy infrastructure.
Shabbir was the key enabler to multiple research threads that allowed students to thrive, whether or not they were directly under his supervision. I consider myself extremely fortunate to have collaborated very closely with such an academic jewel, friend, and colleague.”
- Nagi Gebraeel, Georgia Power Early Career Professor and professor, ISyE
“Shabbir joined ISyE around the same time when I arrived there for my Ph.D. work. He served as a committee member for my Ph.D. qualifying exam, and I got known him then. Later on I worked with George Nemhauser and Shabbir for my dissertation. He was an extremely nice person and an outstanding researcher and educator. He treated me more like a friend. I have learned and benefitted greatly from him, in both research and my academic career. He was a role model for me. I was shocked when I heard of his passing, but his spirit lives within me, forever in my heart.”
- Yongpei Guan, professor, University of Florida
“I started working with Shabbir and George Nemhauser as a doctoral student in the summer of 2008. Shabbir was very sharp and forthright and liked to get to the bottom of every result during our meetings. He was also a heavy editor, carefully examining every citation in my draft and sometimes completely rewriting a paragraph. As a doctoral advisor, he was reserved and private. I always felt somewhat nervous in front of him.
All this changed after I graduated. Shabbir started to call me a colleague, and more importantly, treated me like one. Over the years, he became more and more of a friend that I could rely on and share my greatest concerns with. Now I have graduated my own Ph.D. students. I realized that I have unconsciously internalized the way Shabbir advised me and applied it to my students.
Shabbir and I communicated more frequently over the past year, since I am going through the tenure review process. Every time we talked, we mostly discussed my case, while touching upon his illness. This was so Shabbir – supporting and caring for others quietly. He taught me a lot: honesty, generosity, excellence, and dedication. I am lucky to be his student and miss him dearly.”
- Qie He, assistant professor, University of Minnesota
“Shabbir was very valuable to my statistical research. On several occasions, I ran into optimization-related problems, and Shabbir was extremely helpful by providing insightful suggestions. His passing is a big loss to our community.”
- Xiaoming Huo, A. Russell Chandler III Professor, ISyE
"I was very fortunate to have known Shabbir as a collaborator and a senior colleague. Working with Shabbir was eye-opening. He was insightful, daring, and very hands-on. I often felt inferior to his persistence in challenging the missions seemingly impossible. Listening to Shabbir reminded me of the values of an educator. He generously offered his time and wisdom to all students and junior colleagues like me. Shabbir will live in my heart as a role model in so many aspects."
- Ruiwei Jiang, assistant professor, University of Michigan
“Shabbir worked on very hard problems and had achieved unquestioned star status in his field, bringing to ISyE a scholarly level of recognition that fixed its position among the small handful of elite programs. As a former graduate chair, I cannot overstate how important that level of individual accomplishment is in the recruitment of the very best Ph.D. students.”
- R. Gary Parker, professor emeritus, ISyE
“Shabbir was an outstanding researcher, teacher, and mentor. When I came to Georgia Tech in fall 2012, even before I arrived on campus, Shabbir went out of his way to help me write my first grant. Throughout my time at Tech, Shabbir was one of my main mentors guiding me in shaping my overall research strategy. His insights were highly non-trivial, and every time we met he added a dimension that I had completely overlooked. He will be dearly missed."
- Sebastian Pokutta, David M. McKenney Family Early Career Professor and associate professor, ISyE
“I first met Shabbir 24 years ago when he joined the graduate program at the University of Illinois. The department had never admitted anyone from his undergraduate institution before, so they gave me his file and asked for my opinion. I was immediately impressed by what he had accomplished in his early twenties. Not only did he make excellent grades, but he already had teaching experience and was also married.
Shabbir was one of my most dedicated, hard-working, and inspirational doctoral students. He showed nothing but excellence during his time at UIUC and taught me a great deal about probabilistic analysis of algorithms and stochastic programming.
After joining Georgia Tech, Shabbir demonstrated remarkable success in many areas of combinatorial optimization, covering every aspect of the field imaginable. Over the last two decades, Shabbir saw thousands of citations to his work and received award after award. He was a star in his field.
I last saw Shabbir in Atlanta in December 2018. Despite his illness, he was very upbeat. As we walked through the Georgia Tech campus, Shabbir marveled at the sky and the colors of the trees. During dinner with friends in the evening, he enjoyed what he always loved — discussions on all sorts of topics, technical and others.
The optimization community is mourning a great loss, but for family members, friends, and coworkers, the pain of Shabbir Ahmed's loss will be felt forever. Everyone who met Shabbir could easily see his brilliance and genius. But beyond his professional success, Shabbir was also a man of rare kindness and determination and a true friend to those fortunate to know him.”
- Nick Sahinidis, John E. Swearingen Professor, Carnegie Mellon
“I met Shabbir at a conference in Vancouver when we were both Ph.D. students. When he joined ISyE in the fall of 2000, I was just finishing my Ph.D. in ISyE, and we briefly overlapped at Georgia Tech. We later collaborated on two papers and saw each other several times a year.
Shabbir was a once-in-a-generation optimization researcher. His research will be remembered most for his pioneering work in stochastic integer programming, but he also made seminal contributions in related areas of optimization, and did first-rate applied research, particularly in power distribution. The field will be exploring the doors he opened for decades to come. He was an amazing advisor, and his Ph.D. students are among the leaders of the field. He was the ideal faculty member and colleague.
As outstanding as Shabbir was as a researcher, he was a far better person. He was kind, generous, thoughtful, encouraging, and humble. I feel very fortunate to have had him as a friend. He will be deeply missed by everyone who had the fortune of knowing him.”
- Andrew Schaefer, Noah Harding Chair and professor, Rice University
"My acquaintance with Shabbir dates back to 2008. I remember the first time I met him at an INFORMS annual meeting for discussing a research problem that we later collaborated on (with my advisor, J. Cole Smith), and he was so friendly, approachable, and patient to someone like me who was just a second-year Ph.D. student.
Shabbir has always been my mentor and role model over the years, and I came to know more about his generosity, caring for junior colleagues, and love for mathematics through our collaborations. He has influenced not only me but also my Ph.D. student, who also remembers Shabbir's kindness and high standards. He is one of those folks who will let you wake up smiling and feel fortunate to work in academia to be around him. Shabbir will be deeply missed by all of us whose lives have been touched by him in a variety of ways."
- Siqian Shen, associate professor, University of Michigan
“I was lucky to have had Shabbir as a professor in an optimization class and also as my advisor. He was smart and professional, and you could tell that he really cared about his students, but more importantly, he was a kind person. He was someone very special in my life, and I will never forget him.”
- Matias Siebert Sandoval, Ph.D. student, ISyE
“There’s a very select group of OR scholars considered to be elite researchers in our field, and Shabbir was one of those few. Come to think of it, that somehow was never the first thing that I would tell others about Shabbir if they hadn’t yet met him. It wasn’t even his most outstanding quality. He impacted those around him in more important ways than his research.
My friend had a gift of being genuine, and a knack for muting the world around him in order to focus on the people that meant so much to him. Shabbir was so thoughtful in all of my collaborations with him, not just because of his thorough nature and high standards, but because I knew that he wanted me to be happy with the outcome. He showed this time and again, whether we were serving on a professional committee, working on research, or taking on the myriad other responsibilities that arise with our job. His humble and calm demeanor was really something I learned to emulate over time – the best I could, anyhow.
If Shabbir had treated me with special attention, that would just make him a (very) good friend. Which he was. But I know that he treated all people this way, regardless of position, rank, or station in life. And that’s I wanted my friends to know about Shabbir. He was exceptional in the true sense of that word: An unfailingly sincere, warm, and genuine person, who just happened to be no less exceptionally brilliant as an optimizer.”
- Cole Smith, associate provost for academic initiatives, Clemson University
“It was heartbreaking to hear the news that Professor Shabbir Ahmed passed away at such a prime age. It seems like it was yesterday that we had a research discussion and strove to prove a theorem together on a whiteboard. Professor Ahmed was truly a supportive mentor and collaborator and a lifelong friend. As one of his recently graduated Ph.D. students, I would say that Professor Ahmed always provided me the best advice without any reservation. He was also trying to help me quickly manage the role of an assistant professor.
As a collaborator, he was always ready to discuss new ideas whenever I knocked at his door, even if at many times, my new thoughts were very premature and did not end up with any research outcomes. His professional mind and deep thoughst, through which I have learned a lot, kept pushing our research to perfection.
As a friend, he was a good listener, was very considerate and always offered his kind suggestions as much as he could, even when he was very sick. R.I.P., Professor Ahmed! We will carry on your legacy, and your spirit of research and brilliant works will keep on shining.”
- Weijun Xie, assistant professor, Virginia Tech
“Professor Ahmed was a great teacher and well-known professor, and I am very sad for his passing away. Professor Ahmed was friendly and inspiring. He was very smart, and I admire his achievements in scientific research.”
- Yulian Zeng, technology analyst, Morgan Stanley
“Shabbir was the best colleague one can dream of. He was always unassuming with a smile but delivered amazing results. For example, more than 50% of the Senior Design teams he advised received finalist recognition and about 15% were Senior Design winners. From talking with the undergraduate students on the finalist or winning teams, it’s clear that these high percentages are not by chance. Shabbir’s effective advising was a major factor in these successes. We all have much to learn from him.”
- Chen Zhou, associate chair for undergraduate studies and associate professor, ISyE
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