William T. Scherer, a professor of systems and information engineering at the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, has been appointed chair of the Department of Systems and Information Engineering. Scherer has served as a UVA systems engineering faculty member since 1986. His appointment as chair starts April 3.
Scherer is well-known for his work on data-driven systems analysis, a method for studying, creating and regulating large-scale systems that underpin our everyday lives such as transportation and financial systems.
He introduced computational methods that integrate multiple analytical approaches, which improved performance and results. These new approaches, for example, allowed for making partially observable Markov decision processes — mathematical models that track how robots or computer programs make decisions in a changing environment — more efficient. Bridge management systems, credit scoring algorithms and spacecraft management systems have all used these concepts.
Scherer focuses on infusing a systems-thinking paradigm into data-driven problem-solving. A systems-thinking framework orients on a problem that is defined by stakeholder goals. This contrasts with a technique-based approach that focuses on analyzing data or situations without a defined aim.
He investigates many aspects of the systems approach, such as how machine learning may be used to find evidence of systems thinking. Using machine learning algorithms, he develops ways to sift through vast amounts of data to identify patterns and relationships that may be indicative how different components of a system are interconnected and influence one another.
Scherer’s research has helped form ways to use artificial intelligence accurately and ethically for the selection of employment candidates; use predictive analysis to design a strategic plan for the growth of live-streaming in social media; identify and select the best student-athletes for university sports programs; and analyze European banking productivity after the 2019 financial crisis.
“Increasing the use of systems-based design is vital for managing technology’s growing complexity,” said Jennifer L. West, dean of the School of Engineering. “In addition to Bill’s contributions to the field, he is also intent on creating a learning environment that encourages critical thinking and reflection for his students. I’m glad to have him in this position of leadership.”
Scherer is a UVA triple-’Hoo alumnus (B.S. ’80, M.E. ’81, Ph.D. ’85) who graduated from the same department he will now chair. His exceptional UVA Engineering student experience transformed into a passion for student advocacy as a faculty member.
Scherer has been the director of the Accelerated Master’s Degree Program in Systems Engineering since its inception in 1999. He has developed innovative strategies for engaging with faculty, staff and administration to ensure that all students have access to the resources they need to excel academically and professionally.
“It’s important that we design educational programs that promote social justice and equity, and that empower students to become systems thinkers and active agents of change in their communities,” Scherer said.
This belief has led the AMP program, over its 20-plus years, to have one of the most diverse student bodies at UVA. Scherer’s dedication to ensuring student success also has made him a much recognized and revered educator.
Scherer was awarded an All-University Teaching Award from the University of Virginia in “recognition of excellent teaching and skill in motivating and inspiring students” in 2007, the Jefferson Scholars Hartfield Teaching Award in 2013 and the SEAS Mac Wade Award in 1996. He also was awarded the Lucien Carr Professorship of Engineering for 1995-1996 for outstanding contributions to undergraduate engineering education at the University. And he has received the Outstanding Undergraduate Teaching Award in Systems Engineering — selected by systems engineering students — more than a dozen times.
Scherer has numerous published papers on curriculum and pedagogy. His co-authored book, How to Do Systems Analysis, was published by Wiley in 2007, and a follow-on book, How to Do Systems Analysis: Primer and Casebook, was also published by Wiley in 2016. He also was a visiting professor at the Darden Graduate School of Business from 2001 to 2002.
Scherer’s accomplishments, service and research contributions to the field of systems engineering extend beyond UVA.
He was a co-founder of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers Intelligent Transportation Systems Society, serving as president from 2007 to 2008. He also was appointed editor-in-chief of Systems MDPI, an “international, peer-reviewed journal on systems theory in practice, including fields such as systems engineering management, systems-based project planning in urban settings, health systems, environmental management, and complex social systems,” in 2021.
After the Jan. 6 attack on the United States Capitol, Scherer was appointed the chief data scientist on the U.S. House Select Committee to investigate the attack, serving from November 2021 until January 2023.