On October 14, we were thrilled to host a private celebration at the Alumni House with former students, alums, faculty members, and friends, all gathering to honor Berkeley IEOR Professor Emeritus, Ronald W. Wolff. Dr. Wolff is one of the world’s most preeminent experts in queueing theory and stochastic processes, pioneering the notion of workload and work conservation for the analysis of queues – a central tool of queueing theory since the 1970s – and in 1982, publishing a seminal queueing result, called “PASTA” (short for Poisson Arrivals See Time Averages), which is among the most frequently cited articles in queueing literature. Wolff’s textbook, Stochastic Modeling and the Theory of Queues (1989), has inspired generations of researchers.
Dr. Wolff served as a professor in IEOR from 1963 to 1995 and as department chair from 1993 to 1995. He advised dozens of students during his tenure, including dissertations by distinguished IEOR alumni Shelby Brumelle, Betsy Greenberg, Kneale Marshall, Barry Pasternack, Karl Sigman, and many more. In addition to being a highly respected teacher and scholar, Wolff remains active in the life of the department as a trusted mentor to new faculty, chairs, students, and alums.
Recently, Dr. Wolff has established two new endowments, The Ronald W. Wolff Chancellor’s Chair in Industrial Engineering & Operations Research and The Ronald W. Wolff Fellowship, which will help foster learning and deep discovery in the department for years to come. Friends and former students of Wolff’s were overjoyed as they gathered on October 14 to celebrate his wonderful career and contributions to IEOR. Among the luminaries in attendance were Wolff’s former students, Averill Law, Chet Birger, Karl Sigman, Charlie Wang, and Betsy Greenberg, along with College of Engineering Dean, Tsu-Jae Liu.
“Ron has been an international leader in queueing theory and stochastic processes, and their application to transportation, communications, and manufacturing. As a teacher, advisor, and mentor, Ron has changed the career and personal trajectories of countless students. In establishing the Ronald Wolff Chancellor’s Chair and Fellowship in IEOR, he has not only strengthened our IEOR department today, but he has created foundational support that will reverberate for generations to come” said Dean Tsu-Jae Liu, who remarked on the scope of Dr. Wolff’s gifts during her speech at the event. “His Chancellor’s Chair allowed the department to create a new teaching professor for the department, at a time when they’re experiencing tremendous enrollment growth. Ron’s fellowship will assist IEOR in recruiting the best and brightest doctoral students who will follow in his footsteps by becoming tomorrow’s engineering and technology leaders.”
While Dr. Wolff’s scholarly contributions have fundamentally advanced research on queueing theory and stochastic processes, he has also always been invested in cultivating future leaders in the field. Through his teachings, research, and mentorship, Dr. Wolff has equipped new generations of students with insights needed to leave their mark on operations research. Now, with his wonderful generosity, Dr. Wolff has provided resources for budding OR researchers and current and future IEOR students.
“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” said Karl Sigman, noting the profound impact Dr. Wolff made on his career. Sigman is Wolff’s former student and a current Professor of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research at Columbia University. “Ron became the perfect Ph.D. advisor for me; he had an appreciation for math and rigor, 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 Rhonda Righter, the inaugural Ronald W. Wolff Chancellor’s Chair in Industrial Engineering & Operations Research, was also in attendance and gave a speech expressing gratitude and appreciation for the critical contributions and impact Wolff has had on operations research and Professor Righter’s own life and career. Current first-year PhD student, Tingyu Zhu, is the inaugural recipient of the Ron Wolff fellowship. She was also in attendance and helped present Wolff with a certificate in honor of his rich legacy and generosity to the department.
“I am honored to be the recipient of the inaugural Ronald Wolff fellowship. Thank you, Professor Wolff, for supporting my education, and the education of future generations of students,” said Zhu. “My current research interest lies in the domain of stochastic processes and simulation because I like the idea of making sense of all the randomness going on. Life is a random walk, and the uncertainty that lies ahead is where hope and anticipation come from. I am very grateful to Professor Wolff and the IEOR department for giving me the confidence and courage to embrace this random walk.”
IEOR Department Chair and Professor Alper Atamturk provided closing remarks for the event’s program. “Ron, I give you my heartfelt thanks – our heartfelt thanks – for helping Berkeley IEOR fulfill its research and educational mission in such a meaningful way. The Ronald Wolff Chancellor’s Chair and Ronald W. Wolff Fellowship fund are truly gifts that give forever” said Professor Atamturk.
After speeches concluded, guests spent the rest of the evening toasting to Ron and exchanging stories about department barbecues in the Berkeley hills, problem sets starring Ron’s dogs, and new and unexpected citings of PASTA, among other discussion topics.
Dr. Wolff’s generosity, combined with his impressive, rich legacy of scholarly achievements, has profoundly impacted the future of Industrial Engineering and Operations Research. Ron is a powerhouse as a researcher, mentor, scientist, and intellectual. Establishing the Ronald W. Wolff Chancellor’s Chair in Industrial Engineering & Operations Research and The Ronald W. Wolff Fellowship is but the next step in his extraordinary career.
Many of Ron’s students have asked us how they can contribute to his fellowship. Checks made payable to the UC Berkeley Foundation may be sent to: University of California, Berkeley, Donor and Gift Services, Attn: Ronald Wolff Fellowship (FW8838000), 1995 University Avenue, Suite 400, Berkeley, CA 94704-1070