CLEMSON – Clemson University faculty have recognized associate professor of industrial engineering Mary E. Kurz as one of the very best among them by awarding her the Class of ’39 Award for Excellence.

The award, endowed by the Class of 1939 to commemorate its 50th anniversary in 1989, is presented annually to one distinguished faculty member whose outstanding contributions for a five-year period have been judged by her/his peers to represent the highest achievement of service to the student body, university and community, state or nation. It will be formally presented at a ceremony at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, at the ’39 Bell Tower in the Carillon Garden. (Save reminder in Outlook).

Photo of Mary E. Kurz

Mary E. Kurz

Calling Kurz a “complete professor” with a heart for service in nominating her for the award, William Ferrell, Fluor International Supply Chain Professor and associate dean of the Graduate School, wrote she is “an excellent faculty member who has balanced success across teaching, research and securing funding.”

Kurz said she was humbled to learn she would receive the award.

“Many of my campus heroes are in the Class of ’39 and I am honored that my colleagues have elected to have me join this class,” said Kurz. “I feel the weight of the deeds of the original members of the Class of ’39 and hope to live up to their reputation.”

Kurz said she believes that being a faculty member is a long-term commitment between her and Clemson.

“Being a faculty who stays at an institution and grows with the institution requires engagement on both sides,” she said.  “Some people are very happy and successful having a career focused on their labs, their students, their research. I like to engage with people in lots of ways, and so I have developed relationships with people through various activities at Clemson like college-level computing or curriculum committees or university-level activities like curriculum committees or Faculty Senate.”

Through leadership activities on campus, Kurz developed skills that have transferred to community group. In the community, she has been engaged with the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Clemson’s endowment committee and a just-graduated girl scout troop. For many years, she coordinated the Engineering Expo with second graders at Clemson Elementary. She has been deeply involved with the Clemson Aquatic Team, as both the chair of the board and the meet director, providing leadership in activities like swim meets at Fike or Lake Hartwell that regularly bring hundreds of swimmers to Clemson and an ongoing aquatic center feasibility study for a permanent home for Clemson Aquatic Team.

She said she loves working at Clemson and living in Clemson because of the overlap of people with whom she interacts, which enables her to help people both at work and in their outside-of-work life.

“I sincerely believe that the work I do in those two areas improve the quality of lives of my colleagues in immediate and measurable ways,” she said.

While managing challenges of rapid enrollment growth as associate chair in industrial engineering, Ferrell noted, “Not only has she deftly navigated the logistics of teaching, but in a way that neither the quality of education nor the personal attention that students like about department have been compromised. I must also note that she has done this in a way that faculty have embraced.”

She is an active adviser in Creative Inquiry and on undergraduate honors theses, master’s theses and doctoral dissertations.

“Students – both undergraduates and graduates – indicate she is an excellent classroom teacher,” Ferrell wrote. “Her approach is always to lead by example where the students know that she is working alongside them, not telling them what to do.”

Outside of her department, she has been program evaluator for the accrediting body for engineering undergraduate programs, chaired important searches for the department and served as a faculty adviser for student groups. She also was a member of the Academic Council representing the college and the National Scholars Program Selection Committee.

Additionally, she was president of the Faculty Senate and chaired its policy committee.

Professionally, Kurz was president of the Operations Research Division board of the Institute of Industrial & Systems Engineers and was asked to work on two annual meeting program committees for the Institute for Operations Research and the Management Sciences.

Kurz earned both a Bachelor and Master of Science degrees in Systems Engineering in 1995 and 1997, respectively, and a Doctor of Philosophy in Systems and Industrial Engineering in 2001 – all from the University of Arizona. She came to Clemson in 2001. Her research focuses on tactical decision-making in assembly systems, focusing on production planning and control topics, such as sequencing, line balancing and configuration management, for customizable products.

Her research has been diseeminated in over 80 journal articles and conference proceedings, involving funding of over $4.8 million in her career thus far. Dr. Kurz also engages with outreach activities funded by the National Science Foundation, currently with the ADVANCE grant, the SPECTRA S-STEM program and the THINKER NRT. Each of these projects are focused on increasing the impact of engineering education and educators.

In addition to the Class of ’39 Award for Excellence, Kurz has received the Esin Gulari Leadership and Service Award, the Alan Schaffer Faculty Senate Service Award and the Martin Luther King Jr. Award for Excellence in Service.