Systems Engineering Graduate Student Wins Officer Research Fellowship

UA doctoral candidate Lt. Col. Matthew Dabkowski has received a 2016 Omar N. Bradley Officer Research Fellowship in Mathematics, and will join the faculty of the U.S. Military Academy at West Point.

Matthew F. Dabkowski, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army who is completing his PhD in systems and industrial engineering at the University of Arizona, has received a 2016 Omar N. Bradley Officer Research Fellowship in Mathematics.

The three-year fellowship recognizes Army officers who are actively engaged in the study of mathematics, have the best-developed plans for conducting significant work and have demonstrated analytic research ability.

Dabkowski received the award to conduct research in applying optimization to network science, or social network analysis, which is not to be confused with online social networking. He began studying network science for his minor in sociology and has integrated it into his doctoral research on the cost estimation and growth of major defense acquisition programs.

Lt. Col. Matt DabkowskiAs an operations research and systems analyst for the Army, Dabkowski uses the tools of mathematics -- statistics, optimization, simulation, mathematical modeling -- to streamline military procedures, increase efficiency and minimize risk. He has applied these tools to help the military address practical issues, such as how to reduce the number of soldiers on duty while maintaining a certain level of capability.

"The Omar Bradley Award solidifies Matt's reputation as a top operations research systems analyst in the Army," said Dabkowski's adviser, Ricardo Valerdi, an associate professor of systems and industrial engineering and renowned cost estimation expert. "His research has broad implications in systems engineering, cost estimation and network science."

After graduating in spring 2016, Dabkowski will serve as an academy professor in the U.S. Military Academy's department of systems engineering, where he will direct the Operations Research Center of Excellence. For Dabkowski, who earned his bachelor's degree in operations research from West Point in 1997, relocating there with his wife and five children will be a homecoming.

"I loved the academic discipline of operations research and systems engineering at West Point, and I knew I would someday like to go back there," he said.

Dabkowski's other research awards have included the Military Operations Research Society's Wayne P. Hughes Junior Analyst Award in 2013 and David Rist Prize in 2012 and the Best Student Paper Award at the 2013 Conference on Systems Engineering Research.

PhD Deployed to Djibouti

Dabkowski spent eight years in the infantry, serving as a company commander in Iraq in 2004. Following his return stateside, he earned his UA master's in systems engineering in 2007 and applied the skills he acquired at the UA as a data analyst in Afghanistan in 2012. Continuing for his PhD, he recently took a leave of absence to assist the commanding general of the Combined Joint Task Force-Horn of Africa in Djibouti.

"I am grateful to the UA, which was very supportive of my deployment in Africa and made it easier for my family to remain near Tucson and my in-laws," he said.

Systems engineering is a good fit for him, he said.

"I'm a person who naturally likes a lot of structure, and I try to minimize the amount of uncertainty in my life. When you're going on combat deployments, there is a tremendous amount of uncertainty. My battlefield experience has made me more comfortable with uncertainty -- even allowed me to embrace it. And that has made me a better problem solver and a better researcher."

Top picture: Lt. Col. Matt Dabkowski was deployed to Camp Lemonnier, a U.S. Naval Expeditionary Base located at Djibouti's international airport, while pursuing his PhD. It is the only permanent U.S. military base in Africa and home to the Combined Joint Task Force - Horn of Africa of the U.S. Africa Command.


The UA College of Engineering and the U.S. Military Academy at West Point have a long history of engagement. Many alumni of West Point’s undergraduate engineering programs obtain master’s and doctoral degrees in the College and go on to join the West Point faculty.

Army Maj. Danny Thebeau and Capt. Tommy Ryan received their UA master’s degrees in systems engineering in 2014 and 2015, respectively, and are teaching at West Point. Army Capt. Timothy Ashcraft, who received his UA master’s degree in aerospace and mechanical engineering in 2015, and Lt. Col. Matthew Dabkowski, now completing his doctorate in systems and industrial engineering, will start teaching at West Point this summer.

Other “West Point Wildcats” include retired Lt. Col. Michael J. Kwinn, a former West Point professor of systems engineering who is moving to Tucson to work for Raytheon; retired Lt. Col. Dale Henderson, former operations research scientist at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, now senior operations research scientist at Amazon; retired Col. Donald Dawson, senior operations research analyst at the Office of the Secretary of Defense; retired Brig. Gen. Jack Pollin, former West Point mathematics professor and department head; and retired Brig. Gen. Mike McGinnis, former West Point systems engineering professor and department head, now executive director of the Peter Kiewit Institute at the University of Nebraska.

UA College of Engineering faculty who have had visiting appointments at West Point include Dean Jeff Goldberg, professor of systems and industrial engineering, and Professor Emeritus Henry “Skip” Perkins, aerospace and mechanical engineering.

UA associate professor of systems engineering Ricardo Valerdi serves on the advisory board for West Point’s systems engineering department, a position Dean Goldberg formerly held.

West Point’s connections extend beyond the College to the entire University and include athletics as well as academics, Ashcraft noted.

"There are some neat connections between our sports programs, too," he said. "But perhaps that's another story for another day. Our sports mottos were almost meant to go together: 'Bear Down' and 'Beat Navy!'"