Department of Industrial Engineering excels at ORSSA Conference

[Article by Amber Viviers]

Students and academic staff from the Department of Industrial Engineering at the Faculty of Engineering of Stellenbosch University (SU) received various awards at the recent 51st Annual Conference of the Operations Research Society of South Africa (ORSSA).

ORSSA makes recognition awards to individuals who have served the profession of Operations Research (OR) in a commendable way. These awards are considered a respected distinction and are reserved only for outstanding achievements and contributions.

National Student Competitions

Alexander Flemming received the esteemed 2022 Theodor Stewart Medal for the best master’s project in OR. His thesis of 2021 was titled, A framework for modelling spatio-temporal competition and spread of invasive Acacia species in South Africa.

Flemming said, “It is sometimes difficult to explain the scope and difficulty of one’s work to people that aren’t working on it, but for my work to be awarded the best master’s thesis in Operations Research nationwide establishes that very elegantly.

“Two years of work on a thesis has some important milestones that are celebrated, but they are few and far between, but winning the competition was something else entirely,” he said.

The winner of the prestigious 2022 Gerhard Geldenhuys Medal for the best fourth-year project in OR went to Fuzail Dawood for his project of 2021 titled, Modelling control strategies for the invasive tree species Prosopis in the Northern Cape.

“This award means so much to me and it feels incredibly rewarding to see all my hard work and sacrifices pay off. The project required a lot of commitment and perseverance from me, and this would not have been possible without continuous support from my supervisors, family and friends,” said Dawood.

His project was conducted under Flemming’s supervision, while Flemming’s supervisor took on the role of co-supervisor. “This opportunity allowed me to explore a more collaborative side of research, but also in leading and helping someone in pursuing a research topic, and making it their own,” said Flemming.

The Tom Rozwadowski Medal

Dr Christa Searle and Prof Jan van Vuuren were the winners of the Tom Rozwadowski Medal – the Society’s premier award. The medal is awarded for the best-written contribution to Operations Research made by a member of the Society during the previous year.

Their winning paper is entitled, Modelling forced migration: A framework for conflict-induced forced migration modelling according to an agent-based approach. In a nutshell, the article is about designing agent-based simulation models to capture the emergent behaviour of forced migration patterns of those fleeing conflict areas.

Dr Searle is currently an Assistant Professor at Edinburgh Business School at Heriot-Watt University and was formerly a data science and operations research lecturer in the Department of Industrial Engineering at SU.

She is well known in the local operations research community, having attended the annual ORSSA conferences since 2015, when she became a student member of ORSSA. She also received a Category IV Award from ORSSA in 2020 in recognition of the excellent service rendered to the local profession of operations research in general as a lecturer and mentor of a new generation of operations researchers.

Prof Jan van Vuuren, Professor of Operations Research in the Department of Industrial Engineering, is the founder of the Stellenbosch Unit for Operations Research in Engineering (SUnORE). This group does research in the areas of combinatorial and nonlinear optimisation and machine learning aimed at objective decision support for the industry.

He is also a registered professional natural scientist, an NRF-rated researcher and a Fellow of the Operations Research Society of South Africa (ORSSA). He received Research Excellence awards from Stellenbosch University in 2008, 2010, 2013, 2017, 2018, 2019, 2020 and 2021.

Moreover, he was awarded the Tom Rozwadowski Medal on eight occasions in 2000, 2002, 2008, 2010, 2013, 2017, 2019 and 2022 (a record). In addition, he received the Rector’s Award for Exemplary Teaching at SU in 1999 and 2013 based on student feedback and the medal for Lecturer of the Year in the Faculty of Engineering in 2019.

Photograph: Fuzail Dawood, Alexander Flemming and Prof Jan van Vuuren receiving their awards at the ORSSA conference.