William A. Massey '77
As the Edwin S. Wilsey professor in the Department of Operations Research and Financial Engineering, William A. Massey is a leading innovator in queueing theory, a field of mathematics that is critical to the modeling and design of modern communications systems. His recent honors include the 2006 Blackwell-Tapia Prize from the Institute for Mathematics and Its Applications and induction as a fellow of the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences.
Massey’s interest in math started at an early age. As a child, he was fascinated by numbers. His mother, an educator, encouraged him by creating math-related games. Out of that early encouragement grew a lifelong passion. Massey majored in mathematics at Princeton and later earned his Ph.D. in the same field from Stanford.
After graduation, Massey spent 20 years as a member of technical staff at Bell Labs, where he discovered a second passion: mentorship. Massey entered the firm after receiving a graduate fellowship to Stanford through the Bell Labs’ Cooperative Research Fellowship Program. This is a program designed to increase the number of minority researchers in scientific fields through mentorship and employment opportunities.
Later, Massey became the first program participant to serve as a mentor, and he founded the annual Conference for African American Researchers in the Mathematical Sciences. The conference, now entering its 13th year, brings together African American researchers and graduate students to present their work and provide career guidance.
According to Massey, mentorship doesn't simply benefit minority students and researchers; it improves the overall quality of the field. As he says, “Research scientists are valued for making new discoveries. How do you come up with a new discovery? By looking at things differently from other scientists. What's the easiest way to look at things differently from other scientists? By coming from a different cultural background.”
Through his role as mentor to Princeton students, Massey hopes to foster the next generation of colleagues who will join him as innovators in the field. He says, “Students have to realize the sky is the limit.”