A Lively and Informative Alumni Reunion
Photo credit: Jessica Meno
Huang Engineering Center was alive with conversation and excitement for the 2017 MS&E reunion event on Saturday, October 14.
Nearly 200 classmates and friends came together from varied geographic, professional, and personal backgrounds to reconnect, hear talks from MS&E researchers, and of course enjoy food. A pop-up bookstore, conversation topic tables, and photo ops added to the opportunities for connection.
Three MS&E researchers opened the event with brief yet impactful presentations on the day’s theme, “The Changing Nature of Work,” with an audience Q&A session afterwards.
Prof. Ron Howard’s talk, “What Will Not Change at Work,” focused on the process of making decisions. He illustrated the distinction between the quality of a decision and the quality of an outcome—a good decision can have a bad outcome, and vice versa. He also discussed how while evolution has not prepared us to make complex decisions, we do have the ability and mathematical tools to improve. To close, Howard made a case for teaching decision science as early as kindergarten, and said he longs for the day when we might hear someone in a position of power understand and use the term “conditional probability.”
Prof. Pamela Hinds presented next with an overview of the Center for Work, Technology, and Organization (WTO), which she directs. She described WTO broadly as studying how advances in technology are changing what people do for work, how they interact, how they understand what they do, and what a career looks like. She then gave brief overviews of several research projects in the center, which are often student-led. Those projects include how 3D printing is affecting manufacturing, how firms make use of data analytics in the age of big data, and how one might support complex organizational work in the context of online labor markets.
Prof. of the Practice Tina Seelig closed the program with a strong case for framing problems, or to “question the questions” you ask when making a decision. She illustrated how a relatively small difference in the problem statement—for example, “How can we cure cancer?” versus “How can we prevent cancer?”—can lead to a massive difference in available solutions. So massive that Seelig suggested to “frame storm” problems before you brainstorm solutions. Seelig’s presentation hinted that the future of work in an increasingly automated and robotic environment will shift away from solving problems, which computers do quite well, and toward determining the right questions to ask.
The audience Q&A session sparked conversation about a wide range of topics, including: intellectual property, defining novelty and innovation in academic study, artificial intelligence, and technology’s effect on physical labor that can’t easily be automated.
After the presentations, attendees enjoyed a plentiful brunch buffet while catching up with classmates and more than 20 MS&E faculty and staff. Those with similar interests gathered around topic tables, with many groups also forming spontaneously in the open space. A few even stole away into nearby conference rooms to work out problems on whiteboards. In addition to the food and conversation, many attendees took photos, purchased books by the three MS&E speakers, and visited the Stanford Technology Ventures Program’s information table. A few alumni also gave video interviews about their experiences. The MS&E department is grateful to all who came and made it a special event. Whether you were able to come this year or not, we hope to see you at our future events!
It was a festive event filled with MS&E spirit. Some alumni came from as far away as London and Japan to participate. The MS&E Department is grateful to all who came and made it a special event. Whether or not you were able to come this year, we hope to see you next year!