Mark A. Reynolds
BS Systems Engineering
University of Virginia
MS Operations Research and Management Science
George Mason University
Operations Research Manager
From my senior year in high school through my undergraduate and graduate years, I found it intriguing that the study of mathematics is in many ways like the study of a foreign language. At first, a mathematics student stumbles over fundamental concepts. Over time and with practice, however, these early lessons form the foundation for future study. As one masters the language of mathematics, past approaches are instinctively recalled, just as a fluent speaker in a second language can, without hesitation, negotiate his or her way through an encounter in that language. I do not pretend to be a mathematics master, but I have developed an understanding of mathematics that helps me analyze many of the situations encountered in the airline industry.
Upon entering the University of Virginia, I decided to pursue a degree in systems engineering because of my interest in problem solving. How to put those interests to the best use was not so clear to me at the time. The systems engineering curriculum gave me the opportunity to obtain a broad-based engineering education and develop my skills in human factors, operations research, economics, and computer science. Mathematics was the singular thread throughout all these disciplines. As it turned out, the opportunities upon graduation with my background were both numerous and varied.
My first job, with a federal government contract-research center, provided the means to pursue my interest in operations research. Operations research seeks to use mathematical algorithms to allocate scarce resources. The interesting part of this field is formulating mathematical models that describe meaningful problems, working out solutions of the models, and then interpreting the results to those who posed the problem. During my graduate program, it became clear that the airline industry offered many interesting operations research problems: scheduling pilot crews, assigning aircraft, planning manpower requirements, and managing the flight yields. At Northwest Airlines and currently at USAir, I have had the opportunity to define problem approaches, model them mathematically, develop solutions and guide the implementation of the results. The successful conclusion to these projects saves the company millions of dollars.
As I gain more experience with USAir, mathematics continues to be the central focus of all that I do. Being able to translate business situations and problems into a mathematical model is an invaluable skill to possess in the corporate world. However, the full mathematical contribution can be achieved only by using "people" skills to obtain a clear understanding of the problem from the customer and then to interpret the "numbers" solution.