Pleased to Meet You

Author: Linda Thomas Terhune
Introducing incoming school head Abhijit Deshmukh

As an industrial engineer, Abhijit Deshmukh studies complex systems. As the new head of the School of Industrial Engineering, he will manage one.

Abhijit Deshmukh

Abhijit Deshmukh

Deshmukh, who is a professor of industrial and systems manufacturing at Texas A&M, is no stranger to Purdue. He received a doctorate from the school in 1993, working with professors Moshe Barash and Joe Talavage.

He recalls meetings with Barash over coffee in Pappy’s Sweet Shop, where the two talked through the idea of complexity: “What makes one system more complex than the other? What is the science behind it? How do you measure it? What are the mathematical constructs?”

He credits his advisors with having helped him mature from a student to a researcher.

“Moshe encouraged his students to ask the right questions,” Deshmukh says. “He gave us the respect as a colleague. He wanted us to think independently and look at things differently.”

In January, when he assumes leadership of the School of Industrial Engineering, Deshmukh will have a chance to return the favor.

“I’m truly honored to be given this opportunity to come back and join the team and work with the talented faculty, staff, students and administration in moving to the next level and asserting Purdue IE’s leadership role in the industrial engineering field,” he says.

Industrial engineering as a discipline and profession is about to hit its zenith, Deshmukh believes. He refers to the ties between engineering and societal development: Sputnik led to a focus on mechanical and aerospace engineering. The oil embargo and energy crisis of the ’70s put chemical engineering on the map. The last few decades have engendered nano and bioengineering. Looming on the horizon, he hypothesizes, is the age of integration and the age of IE.

“IE is the key discipline that has the tools to develop the science of integration that can help us build systems that are complex but manageable,” he says. “IE is a linchpin to a lot of the problems we are looking at and could provide the key element to solving big societal issues … when you look at infrastructure or climate change, these are highly correlated, integrated problems. It’s a fascinating time for IE.”

Deshmukh believes that Purdue IE can play a major leadership role in redefining the discipline. The school, he says, is ready to lead with a dynamic strategic plan and its vision of evolution of IE frontiers.

“We are at the beginning of an enormous opportunity for the profession,” he says. “Most engineers recognize that the systemic challenges out there are key, and the discipline that helps understand those and provide tools to help answer them is going to be at the heart of the next decade — IE.”