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Engineering professor earns prestigious award

Mechanical and industrial engineering professor Allen Soyster has received the Frank and Lillian Gilbreth Award, the most esteemed honor bestowed by the Institute of Industrial Engineers. Founded in 1948, IIE is the world’s largest professional society dedicated to advancing the field.

The award is named in memory of one of the world’s most accomplished husband-and-wife teams of science and engineering. According to the Gilbreth Network, the duo collaborated in the early 1900s on the development of motion study as an engineering and management technique.

Soyster’s service to the society, management responsibilities, and vast body of research made him the perfect candidate to receive the award, which honors only one person per year, if any.

“It’s wonderful to be recognized because there are a lot of qualified people in this business,” said Soyster, who served as president of IIE from 2004-2005 and who was honored earlier this month at the society’s annual conference in Puerto Rico. “I’m happy that I was fortunate enough to be that person this year.”

Soyster has more than 45 years of professional experience in the field. He holds a bachelor of science in industrial engineering from Pennsylvania State University; a master of science in industrial engineering and operations research from Cornell University; and a doctorate in operations research from Carnegie Mellon University.

Over the last four decades, Soyster has published more than 80 peer-reviewed research papers in the field of mathematical programming and optimization; many of them have appeared in prestigious journals such as IIE Transactions, Operations Research, and Management Science.

He owes his unrelenting passion for his field to his students and colleagues. “I’m around faculty and students who forever energize me,” Soyster said.

From 1981 to 1996, he headed the Industrial Engineering Department at Penn State, where he presided over the development of the Learning Factory, in which engineering students receive practical experience through client-based capstone design projects. In 2006, the National Academy of Engineering awarded the Learning Factory the Bernard M. Gordon Prize for Innovation in Engineering and Technology Education, which recognizes new modalities and experiments in education that develop effective engineering leaders.

Soyster served as dean of the College of Engineering at Northeastern from 1997 to 2006, before returning to the university in 2011. From 2006-2010, he worked as the National Science Foundation division director for engineering education and centers.

As dean, Soyster helped the university attract two NSF-funded centers—the Center for High-rate Nanomanufacturing and the Bernard M. Gordon Center for Subsurface Sensing and Imaging Systems.

He marveled at the college’s transformation into one of the country’s top engineering schools. “We have recruited the best faculty in the world,” he said, “and the quality of students we enroll is beyond anything I could have imagined in 1997.”