Preparing the Next Generation of Researchers at the University of Nevada, Reno
Ron Lembke has always liked solving problems and has always been good at math. But it wasn’t until he took his skill at math and combined it with business that he found his real passion.
“I took a class in operations research and we were using math to try and solve business problems,” said Lembke, an associate professor of Supply Chain Management and Logistics. “I thought, ‘I need to learn more about this.’ ”
Lembke’s interest in using math to improve business never faded as he earned his undergraduate degree in math with a concentration in computer science at St. Olaf College in Northfield, Minn., and his master’s and doctorate degrees in industrial engineering and management science at Northwestern University.
In 1995, he began teaching others about his life-long interest: how to use math to find the best way to do something. Lembke said of the University of Nevada, Reno: “We’re fairly unique in that we offer an undergraduate degree in supply chain management and logistics. Our students graduate with strong technical skills to manage supply chains in our global economy.”
“In business, two things are important: being efficient, that is, getting the task done using the least amount of resources, and being effective, making your customers happy,” he said. “You’ve got to be good at both.”
Lembke said he got involved in renewable energy issues on campus because of Greg Mosier, Dean of the College of Business.
“When we updated our strategic plan, he included an emphasis on sustainability,” Lembke said. “As a land-grant institution, we play an important part in spreading the word through education.”
In the fall 2009 semester, Lembke is teaching the first class on sustainability to a group of MBA graduate students.
“We have all these challenges in Northern Nevada,” he said. “We’re short on water with a growing population, but we have lots of solar, wind and geothermal potential. As the business school, we need to figure out how best to help. Companies are trying to become more sustainable in their operations, which can open up new markets among environmentally conscious consumers. We want to help them become sustainable in such a way that instead of costing them more money, it reduces costs and makes them more profitable.”
Lembke sees his role in the Renewable Energy Center as a facilitator by linking scientists’ research with private industry. “I’m here to help them (our scientists) with the commercialization and implementation of these technologies by businesses,” he said. “Any brilliant idea is only brilliant if we can get people to buy it – or buy into it.”
“We’re in the midst of a paradigm shift,” he added. “There are so many of us now that we’re looking at how to do things differently. Renewable energy is huge, maybe the biggest piece of it. And it’s realizing that, because there are so many of us, we can’t maintain our current level of resource use forever.
“If change is going to happen on a larger scale, it will have to involve the political process. If we’re not educating our people, we aren’t going to change what we’re doing.”
“We really need to make some serious changes,” Lembke concluded, “We don’t know yet the best way to do things.”
By Jean Dixon