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Professor Ed Olmstead Retires

A retirement party will take place on Nov. 30 in Cohen Commons

After 50 years with Northwestern University, William Edward Olmstead, professor of engineering sciences and applied mathematics, has announced his retirement. The department will host a reception in his honor at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday, November 30 in Cohen Commons.

Ed OlmsteadBorn and raised in San Antonio, Texas, Olmstead was a high school football star and straight-A student. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Rice University before coming to Northwestern for graduate school to study mechanical engineering and applied mathematics. Following the receipt of his PhD in 1963, Olmstead spent one year as a postdoctoral fellow at Johns Hopkins University and then returned to Northwestern as a faculty member in 1964. 

At Northwestern, Olmstead devoted himself to the development of an applied mathematics program, which ultimately became part of the Department of Engineering Sciences. Having an extensive investment background, he also developed financial mathematics courses, which became a significant part of the department’s course offerings. The popular courses involved learning stochastic differential equations, managing mock portfolios, and using software employed by professional traders.

After developing the applied mathematics program, Olmstead was integral to growing the department. Working with Professor Bernard Matkowsky, Olmstead revised the department’s course offerings and embarked on an aggressive hiring campaign to recruit the best possible faculty and students. The pair also invited a number of outstanding visiting scientists and colloquium speakers, organized several successful conferences, initiated the Northwestern applied math report series, and raised sufficient funds to support these activities. Because of this work, Northwestern’s Department of Engineering Sciences and Applied Mathematics is now highly regarded.

Olmstead has published more than 100 papers and delivered more than 150 technical presentations at conferences and universities around the world. He has advised 16 PhD students and served on the editorial boards journals, including the SIAM Journal of Applied Mathematics. Olmstead has also received several accolades for teaching, including being one of the first two engineering faculty appointed as a Charles Deering McCormick Professor of Teaching Excellence.

In addition to his academic accomplishments, Olmstead is known for his competitive contract bridge skills, sense of humor, love for his Jaguar sports car, and for never using notes in the classroom.