Richard Soland

Dr. Richard Soland

Faculty: Emeriti

Richard M. Soland grew up in the Bronx, New York, and fondly recalls being born “almost in the shadow of the old Yankee Stadium.” Soland attended the Bronx High School of Science, which he says provided him with “a fantastic education” and helped prepare him for college. After High School, Soland attended Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) in Troy, New York, where he pursued a major in electrical engineering. He recounts that there was a strong familial predisposition to this field and that science and math were his favorite topics in high school. Soland notes that his father “was a bit of a frustrated engineer…In addition, my mother was a junior high school science teacher…so, from both sides I got encouragement to go in that direction.”

At RPI, Soland participated in the co-op program with IBM, which allowed him to spend three semesters working for different parts of the company. This work helped him to decide “that electrical engineering really wasn’t for me,” and toward the end of junior year, he approached the math department about changing his major. “I never actually changed majors…but received permission to orient the rest of my program toward mathematics in my senior year.”

Soland graduated first in his class in 1961 as an electrical engineer and went directly on to pursue a Ph.D. He explains, "I was changing my area of interest from electrical engineering to mathematics... I knew I wanted more education, because it would give me more opportunities - I wasn't sure what I wanted to do, but I knew I'd have much more opportunity with a doctorate." He earned a National Science Foundation fellowship for graduate work, which provided him with three years of tuition funding and a stipend. With this award, Soland pursued a branch of applied mathematics called operations research at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), in Cambridge. An RPI faculty member had introduced Soland to operations research as an undergraduate, and he "saw new possibilities opening up in terms of the subject matter.” Soland’s dissertation explored an area of applied probability within operations research, and he remembers that the dissertation process "went swimmingly. I finished it in nine months.”

Soland completed his Ph.D. in 1964, after only three years. He recalls that it was a great time to be in his field, stating, “You know, it was a few years after Sputnik, and a lot of resources were being thrown into science and engineering in this country, including from the National Science Foundation, and I think there was an interest in getting new graduates educated, groomed, and out the door so that the U.S. could do more in science and engineering.” After earning his doctorate, Soland accepted a position in McLean, Virginia at Research Analysis Corporation (RAC), a U.S. Army think tank. He describes the experience: “I had to get a security clearance, but most of the time I was able to do unrestricted research…and that appealed to me, because I liked research at that point, and I felt it was the key to advancement in the future - to do good research and publish.”

In addition to conducting research as part of his full time job, Soland began to teach, taking a part-time position at the George Washington University in the fall of 1965.  He taught part time for both the business and the engineering schools before applying for a Fulbright grant, which he won. This took him and his family to Helsinki, Finland, where he taught at both the Swedish School of Economics and the Helsinki School of Economics. He recalls, “that was the start of my teaching abroad, but not the end by any means.”

He remembers, “During the time I was away in Finland, or the next year when I came back, the situation was changing for non-profit think tanks.” Soland was no longer afforded the opportunity to do unrestricted research and decided to pursue teaching full time. His strong publication record from RAC enabled Soland to gain a tenured position at the University of Texas at Austin for five years and then a position at École Polytechnique de Montréal.  In tandem with the appointments at both schools, Soland held visiting positions in such far-flung locales as France, Finland, and Venezuela. After two years in Montreal, he recalls, “I felt the desire to come back to the United States.”  In 1978, Soland came to the George Washington University full time. He notes, “at that point, what was available to me was a research professor position in the Department of Operations Research,” but after two years, he became regular faculty and “was here for the remaining thirty years or so.”

Shortly after arriving, the department initiated an undergraduate program in operations research, and Soland took charge of it in the spring semester of 1979, specifying the curriculum and acting as academic advisor for the students. He recalls, “I was pretty much content being in charge of the undergraduate program, teaching…doing research, when my department chair took a sabbatical at the National Science Foundation and asked me to be acting department chair and then department chair. That got me into administration – much more than just being in charge of an undergraduate program.” In 1995, the new dean of engineering asked Soland to become the associate dean for academic affairs, and he accepted. He recounts, “In a sense, it was out of the frying pan, into the fire…It was a wonderful experience in the sense of learning about the rest of the University - meeting people from across the campus, working on some committees, and learning a lot about the University as a whole - so, I enjoyed that.” Soland continued to teach, research, and publish, contributing to the fields of missile defense and offense, global optimization, and multiple criteria decision analysis.

Soland notes, “One of my greatest pleasures as a faculty member at GW was working with undergraduate students. I’m still in touch with some of my previous students - it was always a great pleasure to see them progress from their freshman year, just coming out of high school, to graduates four years later…It’s like your own children or grandchildren to see them progress this way, and it’s always been a true joy for me.”  In retirement, he has continued to attend faculty meetings and seminars in his department in addition to his work with the Operations Research Honor Society, Omega Rho, for which he was the executive director and treasurer for fifteen years.

Education

B.E.E., Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1961
Ph.D., Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 1964

 

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