Professor Emeritus Ronald W. Wolff Establishes Endowed Faculty Chair and Graduate Student Fellowship to Support the Next Generations in IEOR

The Department of Industrial Engineering & Operations Research (IEOR) is excited to announce the establishment of the Ronald W. Wolff Chair and the Ronald W. Wolff Fellowship. The Ronald W. Wolff Chair and Graduate Student Fellowship are made possible by generous donations from IEOR Professor Emeritus Ron Wolff to attract the brightest minds in the world to Berkeley. Professor Wolff is one of the world’s most preeminent experts in queueing theory and stochastic processes, and served as a professor in IEOR from 1963 to 1995, and as department chair from 1993 to 1995. 

“Since the early days of the Department, Professor Wolff has played a central role in ensuring the Department’s excellence through innovative research, impactful teaching and student supervision and leadership. We are delighted and deeply appreciative of Professor Wolff’s timely gift to the Department,” says Alper Atamturk, IEOR Professor and Department Chair. “Ron’s dedication to research and education is truly inspiring. The endowed chair and the graduate student fellowship honoring Professor Ron Wolff will enable IEOR to recruit and retain faculty and students at the highest level. They will make a long-lasting impact on our students and faculty, and will help accelerate the impact of our research and education.”

Professor Wolff has established the Ronald W. Wolff Chair in IEOR and a new Graduate Student Fellowship. Ron is one of the world’s leading experts in queueing theory and stochastic processes, and is also a wine connoisseur.

Ron Wolff was appointed to a research position at Berkeley in 1962 while he was still working on his Ph.D. at Case Institute of Technology (now part of Case Western Reserve University). His Ph.D. research advisor at Case was John D. C. Little who in 1961 published a proof of a fundamental queueing result that is now called “Little’s Law.” Completing his Ph.D. the following year, he joined the IEOR faculty in 1963. After a distinguished career of thirty-three years at Berkeley, including the last three years as department chair, he retired in 1995 and became Professor Emeritus. Retirement has not stopped Ron; to this date, he continues to do research and publish innovative papers. 

Ron pioneered the notion of workload and work conservation for the analysis of queues, which has become a very important tool in queueing theory since the 1970s. His most recent paper “Kelly and Jackson Networks With Interchangeable Cooperative Servers,” published this year in Advances in Applied Probability is an excellent illustration of the power of the concept of work conservation in deriving simple necessary and sufficient stability conditions for a queuing network. His research emphasizes sample-path analysis, regenerative processes, and time-averages for limiting distributions.

In 1982, Ron published a seminal queueing result, called “PASTA” (short for Poisson Arrivals See Time Averages); this article is among the most frequently cited in the queueing literature. He published significant new theoretical results on Little’s Law in 2014, and new applications continue to occur frequently today. Ron’s textbook, Stochastic Modeling and the Theory of Queues (1989) has inspired generations of researchers.

In addition to providing many valuable contributions to the Department and impacting scholars with his research, Ron is also a highly-respected teacher, and has advised dozens of students, including dissertations by distinguished IEOR alumni Shelby Brumelle, Saeed Ghahramani, Betsy Greenberg, Kneale Marshall, Barry Pasternack, Karl Sigman, and Chia-Li Wang.

On working with Ron as a student, Professor Karl Sigman of Columbia University recalls, “Having a background in pure/theoretical mathematics/probability theory, I reached a point as a Ph.D. student in the mathematics department where although I wanted to continue with theory as part of a Ph.D. dissertation, I wanted to do so with an emphasis on applications and intuition. It was at that point that I met Ron who quickly got me intrigued by various queueing theory problems, so much so that I left the mathematics department and switched to the IEOR Department. Ron became the perfect Ph.D. advisor for me; he had an appreciation for math and rigour, but he also had a gift for intuition, the ability to explain things simply, and could discern what were important problems to work on. Ron’s generosity with his knowledge and time together with his academic integrity has had a lasting effect on my own academic life.”

Professor Emeritus Barry Pasternack of CSUF says, “Ron was an excellent professor, who was clear in his explanations and generous with his time. When he asked me if I would serve as his teaching assistant, I enthusiastically agreed. In addition to serving as a research and teaching mentor for me, Ron also shared his passion for wines with me. I vividly remember a road trip we took up to the Napa Valley. As a result of Ron’s tutelage in wines, I subsequently invested in an Oregon winery specializing in pinot noir.”

The IEOR Department is deeply grateful for Ron’s myriad contributions to the field, his teaching and supervision of generations of students, and his support for future faculty and students who will benefit from his generous gift for decades to come.

Cheers to Ron!