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John Kobza

Message from the Department Head

During my ORII class last week, something I said triggered a memory of a song lyric from The Who’s “Quadrophenia.” I mentioned it to the students and recommended they listen to the album. While grading the class’s exams over the weekend I listened to it several times and realized that the years of experience I gained since listening to it in college have given me a deeper appreciation for one of the themes of the rock opera: the search for identity versus the need for belonging and the trade-offs we make as we seek a balance between the two.

Industrial engineers often focus on maximizing the contribution of individuals to a system, for example designing a job to fit the worker and increase their efficiency. However, an IE’s primary focus is on optimizing the performance of the system as a whole. If a job becomes unnecessary, it is eliminated no matter how well a worker performs it. In good organizations, the worker is retrained and repurposed to use their knowledge and experience to best advantage for the organization.

Being welcoming has been and continues to be a strength of our department. However, it is not enough. It doesn’t matter how welcoming the B’s and C’s are, if you are the only A, it is easy to feel different and alone. The irony is that it is not just the A’s who feel alone. We all hold a tension between our need to be an individual versus the need to belong to the group. This tension raises doubts about belonging for all of us. However, engineering is a community; people connected by a common view of the world. For IEs it is a desire to use math and science to make things better; that is our criteria for belonging. While there were times when racial or gender constraints were part of the belonging criteria, we have made a lot of progress in releasing those and focusing on what brings us together rather than the differences that separate us, and we will continue to do so. We agree with Jimmy the Mod in “Quadrophenia” that love is what is needed.

ISE Department Head
John E. Kobza, PhD, PE