Some things never go out of style.
Like Legos. And action figures. And Mark Hillier.
Hillier, the affable professor of quantitative methods at the UW Foster School of Business, has long deployed both multi-colored plastic bricks and his own “Professor Hillier Action Figure” to simplify the most complex concepts covered in his courses.
In this pandemic year, though, he also worked obsessively on remote learning innovations to translate his timeless lessons for the Zoom environment.
This real-time melding of proven and experimental methodology earned Hillier the 2021 PACCAR Award for Excellence in Teaching.
It’s his third time winning the Foster School’s highest teaching honor, which was established in 1998 by PACCAR Inc, the Fortune 200 global technology company based in Bellevue, Washington. The PACCAR Award’s annual recipient is selected by Foster MBAs.
“As a teacher, my biggest hope is that I’ve had some kind of an impact on my students,” said Hillier at the June 13 MBA graduation. “This award is really special to me because it is selected by students, and I know they have many great teachers here at the Foster School to choose from. I can think of no greater honor.”
Furthering the family business
Hillier joined the Foster School in 1993, after earning an MS in operations research and a PhD in industrial engineering and engineering management at Stanford.
At Foster, he has been a Neal and Jan Dempsey Endowed Faculty Fellow (2002-2004) and Evert McCabe Endowed Fellow (2004-2016). His research constructs mathematical models to improve operations in warehouse policies, production line efficiency, operation assignment problems and just-in-time production scheduling logistics—relevant topics to companies that range from Amazon to Boeing to PACCAR.
I tried to view the switch to remote teaching as an opportunity, as it gave me a chance to reevaluate how I teach. I made some significant changes.”
He’s currently working on the seventh edition of Introduction to Management Science, the widely used textbook he co-wrote with Frederick Hillier, a professor emeritus of operations research at Stanford who happens to be his father.
And, on top of his Dean’s Citizenship Award in 2004 and almost too many teaching accolades to count over the years (including this year’s Charles E. Summer Memorial Teaching Award), Hillier has achieved the paramount PACCAR Award in 2007, 2013 and 2021.
Old bricks, new tricks
His latest recognition was perhaps the hardest earned.
The online learning dictated by the COVID-19 pandemic made Hillier rethink the way he had taught his signature courses in Decision Modeling and Modeling with Spreadsheets.
“I tried to view the switch to remote teaching as an opportunity, as it gave me a chance to reevaluate how I teach,” he says. “I made some significant changes.”
To wit, he beefed up class prep for students, delivering curated materials before each session that laid out a clear instructional guide to follow, plus learning objectives, practice quizzes and discussion boards. He also moved much of his traditional lecture material to a suite of short, carefully edited videos that served as asynchronous preludes to greater engagement during each synchronous session.
“I must have recorded a hundred of these over the last year,” Hillier says. “This allowed me to make better use of our live class time over Zoom in interactive activities, discussions and hands-on exercises.”
That includes the famous one with Legos, which introduces the concept of linear programming in the milieu of a furniture manufacturer seeking to optimize resources to maximize profits. And the one featuring his legendary eponymous action figure—the homage of adulating students many years ago—which embodies a marketing decision-making problem.
Simplifying the complex
In nominating Hiller for the award, contemporary Foster MBAs gushed about his sense of fun, enthusiasm, dedication and—perhaps most importantly to mastering such complex topics in this aberration of a school year—organization and clarity.
“Mark is one of the most organized and capable teachers I’ve ever had,” one student wrote. “He not only makes the information very accessible, but also provides organized resources to the extent that students can easily go back and work with his material long after the class has concluded. I’m confident I will be able to analyze future decisions with the tools I learned in his class, no matter how long it has been.”
“Professor Hillier is enthusiastic about teaching,” added another. “While the content and instruction he designs are clear and effective, his attitude is positive and encouraging.”
A third noted that Hillier “went above and beyond to make remote learning successful. I was also impressed by how much he cared about making sure that students had the resources they need to succeed.”
PACCAR and its founding Pigott family are longtime supporters of the Foster School. In addition to the PACCAR Award and three endowed faculty positions, support from the Pigott family and company was instrumental in building PACCAR Hall, the Foster School’s 135,000-square-foot classroom facility that was completed in 2010.
Previous PACCAR Award Winners
Karma Hadjimichalakis (1998)
Stephan Sefcik (1999)
Elizabeth Stearns (2000)
Jennifer Koski (2001)
Ali Tarhouni (2002)
Robert Higgins (2003)
Jane Jollineau Kennedy (2004)
Daniel Turner (2005)
Mark Forehand (2006)
Mark Hillier (2007)
Jennifer Koski (2008)
Shailendra Pratap Jain (2009)
Thomas Gilbert (2010)
Lance Young (2011)
Erich Studer-Ellis (2012)
Mark Hillier (2013)
Frank Hodge (2014)
Jennifer Koski (2015)
Kathy Dewenter (2016)
Thomas Gilbert (2017)
Ed deHaan (2018)
Crystal Farh (2019)
Masha Shunko (2020)