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Institute has new name, changing mission

By : Rachel Coker

Distinguished Professor Krishnaswami Srihari, director of the new Watson Institute for Systems Excellence, in the classroom.

Krishnaswami “Hari” Srihari recently launched the Watson Institute for Systems Excellence, representing a natural progression in his 20-year focus on research that benefits both industry and his students.

Srihari, distinguished professor of systems science and industrial engineering and department chair, prides himself on finding cost-competitive ways to provide valuable research to businesses while offering graduate students a top-flight education. The institute’s nearly two dozen corporate partners include General Electric, IBM, Texas Instruments and Endicott Interconnect.

Srihari’s team has an unusually broad skill set, including experts in facility layout, systems simulation, workflow modeling, supply-chain management and information systems. That allows WISE to tackle projects in areas ranging from electronics manufacturing and productivity enhancement to health-care management and food distribution.

WISE, one of Binghamton University’s institutes for advanced study, grew out of Electronics Manufacturing Research and Services, which was established in 1990. The institute’s new name better reflects the work the team has been doing and will make it easier for the group to expand in other fields.

Srihari, who serves as director of the institute, said WISE aims to be a one-stop shop for research needs.

In addition to faculty members Daryl Santos, Sarah Lam, Nagen Nagarur, Mohammed Khasawneh, Susan Lu, Bahgat Sammakia, Pei-Fang Jennifer Tsai, Shengyong Wang and Bob Murcko, WISE now has 54 graduate students, including 20 doctoral candidates.

“We complement the students’ classroom experiences with excellent real-life problems to which they can apply their knowledge,” Srihari said. He considers students both customers and products of the institute.

The institute’s students work at sponsor locations and take courses at Binghamton, either on campus or through the online EngiNet program. Some are based nearby in locations such as Endicott and Schenectady; others work in cities as distant as Dallas and San Jose. This setup requires the students to balance work with academics, and puts them in world-class laboratories where they learn how to conduct themselves in a professional environment. Students make presentations to sponsors and sometimes even serve as team leaders on projects.

Srihari puts a priority on students’ career planning and placement and notes that about 90 percent of the institute’s alumni remain in touch with him. “From day one, they are working on research,” he said. “The idea is to provide a student with a holistic education so that they are extremely saleable when they get to the market.”

WISE had $1.8 million in funding for 2006-07, up from $630,000 in 1997-98. “Money is a catalyst that helps us do research,” Srihari said. He expects funding to top $2 million this year.

Looking to the future, Srihari hopes to boost both research funding and student recruitment efforts. He sees human factors and supply-chain management as key areas for growth and would like to develop more connections with industry in central New York. Srihari said he expects WISE will one day operate like a consulting company; his team is studying such firms as it considers whether and how to expand.

“We are very careful in growth,” Srihari said. “We have to continue to be cost-competitive and lean while providing quality education and meeting sponsors’ needs.”

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Last Updated: 10/14/08