Alumnus Lee Evans receives Bonder Scholarship, West Point faculty position

June 15, 2018

 Lee Evans had a circuitous route through both his education and career, with one informing the other. Evans recently completed his doctorate in Industrial Engineering, which he has applied to his experience in the military in an effort to explore efficiency means for the promotional process that every officer works through. It was that research that secured Evans the Bonder Scholarship, so meant to promote the development and application of process modeling and operations research analyses for a number of applications, which he received at the 2017 INFORMS (Institute for Operations and Research and Management Science) Conference.

Promotion Boards

His research, which has been accepted to four journals including the Journal Defense Modeling and Simulation, entails applying industrial engineering concepts to how officers in the military receive promotions. Serving within the aviation branch of the military, Evans has taken his practical knowledge as an administrator in operations research and systems analysis, to look at how to better streamline these processes.

“If you want to retain talent, don’t kick out talent. The enlisted side, they do promotions differently. I focused on the officer side. The officer side is unique in that it’s all the leadership,” said Evans. “As you go up, it’s all about increasingly leadership opportunities. You’re working your way up the leadership chain. There are some exceptions to that, and I’m certainly one of them.”

Finding the right path

There is a very zen quality to Evans, who while he has pursued his various interests, has allowed room to go with the flow. A non-traditional student, Evans graduated West Point in 2000, after which he served as a Black Hawk pilot until 2007. An officer, Evans spent time at Fort Knox as an analyst working with promotion boards, before returning to college at Georgia Tech for his graduate work.

“I think my master’s was a harder transition, I literally went from Iraq to Georgia Tech over a two-month period after seven years out. I’d done slightly more technical work at Fort Knox,” Evans said. “I did a lot of analysis on promotion boards, but I didn’t have the time to put in on some of the projects that I wanted to. I thought that I could apply some of the Industrial Engineering concepts to this, and that’s how the dissertation is born.

Throughout this time, Evans revisited West Point, now as an educator with field experience. The academy offers opportunities to receive a doctorate, and Evans took that as an opportunity to return for his PhD. Since his graduate work, Evans has balanced his time in the military, his career as an educator at West Point, and his burgeoning family.

Applying Industrial Engineering Solutions to the military

Always on the search for ways that he could apply his skills to his service, he found inspiration from a former professor he had as a cadet who taught science, before securing a doctorate in physics, a non-traditional trajectory in that context. Ultimately, it was a foregone conclusion that he would move in a STEM direction, which led Evans to follow his impulses to Speed School.

“I thought I’d go back for math, it’s in my blood. I didn’t get picked up from the systems department, but the math department picked me up,” says Evans. “So I fell into operations research and industrial engineering. At the time, the chair of the math department had a PhD in IE.”

He chose Speed School, initially because of its proximity to Fort Knox, but quickly fell in love. He was impressed with how receptive the faculty in the department were to his ideas on applying industrial engineering concepts looking at how to change dynamics, or how often the frequency in the turn over in jobs, and how that affects the army’s appraisal system. Meeting with now Interim Dean DePuy, he was made to feel right at home.

“She sat down with me for 2 hours, walked me through the department, and I knew if they took that kind of time with you, I knew it was a place you needed to come,” says Evans. “They work you hard, but she took the time.”

Evans found a mentor in Dr. Ki-Hwan G. Bae, who served in the South Korean army. Even though Bae’s research is different than Evans’, that shared experience helped to inform the relationship, forging a unique bond between the two. It was through those efforts that Bae received his nomination and subsequent award for Outstanding Mentor of a Doctoral Student.

“Having worked outside of academia, I will work hard, but I just need someone to point me in the right direction. And that’s where he really came into play,” says Evans. “I wanted to come in with a topic that I was passionate about and wanted an advisor that would take the time with it. I wanted something that was going to have value, something that interested me.”

In both 2016 and 2017, Evans received the Omar Bradley Research Fellowship in Mathematics, an award given to “active duty officers of any branch of service who are actively engaged in the study of the Mathematical Sciences.” Those funds allowed Evans the latitude to travel to conferences, including one where he encountered an old colleague who tipped him off to the Bonder Scholarship.

“My former boss, who is a two star general at the Pentagon, I asked for a letter of rec from him and another from Dr. Bae. They give out two, one in healthcare applications, and one in military applications,” says Evans. “Just looking at the crowd, there is so many more for healthcare than military, which is kind of a niche topic. I brought it up to my former boss, and he knocked out a letter of rec in a day. I’ve been extremely fortunate.”