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After 53 years at Stanford, legendary professor Ron Howard retires

Professor Ron Howard, one of the most highly-regarded experts in the field of decision analysis, retires after 53 years at Stanford. 

Since starting in 1965 as a professor in the Department of Engineering-Economic Systems (now the Department of Management Science and Engineering), Professor Howard has served as a mentor and inspiration to countless students, alumni and colleagues. He defined the decision analysis discipline in 1964 and has played a major role in its research, education, and application in areas involving isolation of nuclear waste, technological risk, biotechnological investment, and research and development management.

Ron Howard is a dedicated educator whose remarkable career is a source of inspiration for all that have crossed paths with him.

An interview with Prof. Howard traces his journey and career in the field of decision analysis. 


Why did you choose Stanford?  

After receiving my doctorate at MIT in 1958, I joined the faculty there and spent six very satisfying years. I was then invited by Stanford Professor Bill Linvill, who had been one of my mentors at MIT, to spend a year visiting at Stanford. When I was offered the position of professor at Stanford I accepted and have been enjoying teaching and research here ever since.

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"His course in Decision Analysis, opened new doors.
In fact, it was the reason for which I later
decided to focus on risk analysis."

"He taught me how to look at
problems in a wide and systematic way,
which I found most useful
both in my personal and professional life. "
Elisabeth Paté-Cornell, Professor of Management Science and Engineering

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What made you decide to be a professor (as opposed to working in industry)?

While I have been involved in consulting and starting companies throughout my academic life, my fundamental goal is to learn and to share that learning. Academia has been the perfect place for me.

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"What I appreciate most about Ron is
his intellectual curiosity and his wisdom
with respect to personal and professional decisions."
Ross D. Shachter, Assoc. Professor of Management Science and Engineering

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How did you become interested in researching decisions?

I taught a course in decision theory at MIT that showed its evolution over the centuries. While I was visiting at Stanford, I had the opportunity to develop a process for decision-making that would allow individuals and companies to become effective decision-makers. I called it decision analysis. Since your decisions are the only means you have to affect your future, making them correctly is important to all of us.

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"For Ron, engineering research
should be applicable and
only then can benefit the society."
Onder Guven, PhD in Management Science and Engineering

"Challenging decisions within the department have been
reframed by a few clear sentences from Ron
that capture the essence of the matter.
That reframing is both empowering and enlightening."
Ross D. Shachter, Assoc. Professor of Management Science and Engineering

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Do you have any proudest moments from your career so far?

I am very gratified to have been elected to the National Academy of Engineering, to have received the first INFORMS award for the Teaching of Operations Research/Management Science Practice, and to  have been the primary advisor of almost 100 doctoral students at MIT and Stanford.

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"Ron has received numerous awards and honors
for his theoretical research,
his teaching, his applied work,
and his leadership."
Ross D. Shachter, Assoc. Professor of Management Science and Engineering

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What’s next in the field of decision analysis? 

 

Decision analysis is amoral. It can be used to save lives or to assassinate. The courses that I have developed in ethics and freedom from coercion should guide those who want to use decision analysis without remorse.

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"His theoretical contributions in decision analysis
and Markov decision processes are still fundamental
to ongoing research around the world."
Ross D. Shachter, Assoc. Professor of Management Science and Engineering

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What’s next for you?  

More learning.

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"Ron’s great contribution to engineering
has been to create tools that,
in the midst of uncertainties,
address and begin to answer the all important question:
'what do we do next given that we are not infinitely rich,
and days only have 24 hours' ”
Elisabeth Paté-Cornell, Professor of Management Science and Engineering

"He has been a source of wisdom for many generations."
Onder Guven, PhD in Management Science and Engineering

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