Computational and Applied Mathematics to change name of department

Effective July 1, Computational Applied Mathematics and Operations Research to reflect growing area of research and academic study.

Computational Applied Mathematics and Operations Research logo

The Department of Computational and Applied Mathematics (CAAM) at Rice will change its name, effective July 1, to Computational Applied Mathematics and Operations Research (CMOR).

“Operations Research (OR) has been an established research pillar at Rice since the creation of the department. Along with the new degree in OR, the rise of data analytics and the increased popularity of OR-related majors at other universities, this will make the change of emphasis at Rice official,” said Illya Hicks, professor and chair of CAAM.

In 2021, the Rice Faculty Senate approved establishment of a new major and bachelor of arts degree, operations research (OR), within CAAM. The program was intended to provide “an education that emphasizes models for decision-making in complex systems, and tools for making the best possible decisions,” according to the proposal.

At the heart of the existing OR faculty are Hicks; Andrew Schaefer, Noah Harding Chair and Professor of CAAM; Guodong “Gordon” Pang, professor of CAAM, who was hired last year; and Richard Tapia, University Professor and Maxfield-Oshman Professor in Engineering.

Two new OR faculty members will join the newly named department in the fall: Shiqian Ma, now associate professor of mathematics at the University of California, Davis; and Sebastian Perez-Salazar, who is earning his Ph.D. this year in algorithms, combinatorics and optimization from Georgia Tech.

Hicks noted that many peer institutions already have established programs in OR. At Cornell, the major is called operations research and industrial engineering, and is the third most popular of its engineering majors. At Stanford, a comparable program, management science and engineering, is also the third most popular major.

The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics has forecast a 25 percent growth in demand for OR graduates in the coming decade. At Rice, enrollment in an Introduction to Operations Research and Optimization course almost tripled in five years.

“Industry recognizes the importance of OR, with graduates working in shipping, distribution, transportation, retail, supply-chain management, resource allocation and financial engineering,” Hicks said. “The breadth of applications is staggering.”

OR techniques are used in such processes as scheduling instructions on microprocessors, optimizing distribution of transplantable organs, and developing a supply chain and logistics to distribute medical backpacks in Malawi (a former senior design project at Rice).

For current students, the name of the degree they will receive will not change, and the school of engineering will continue to offer a B.A. in CAAM and a B.A. in OR. The course code for the department’s courses will change from CAAM to CMOR. For example, CAAM 210 will become CMOR 210. The changes will go into effect in the fall of 2023.