Faculty Profile: Yahya Fathi

Meet Yahya Fathi, Director of Graduate Programs and Professor in the Edward P. Fitts Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering

A young man’s passion for mathematical methods and analytical techniques led him on a journey from Iran to Raleigh, North Carolina. This journey included several stops along the way. Each of which helped him find the right direction.

Growing up in Iran, Yahya Fathi was like many young men and pursued his education in engineering. “Engineering was quite fashionable in Iran at the time,” said Dr. Fathi. “It seemed like the reasonable thing to do.” So he enrolled at the Sharif University of Technology in Tehran to get a degree in electrical engineering. During his second year, Fathi discovered that Iran had a great need for industrial engineers. So he wrote a letter to the president of the university requesting a transfer. Luckily for NC State, they granted his request.

Upon receiving his degree, Fathi traveled to the U.S. to pursue a master’s degree in industrial engineering. He enrolled at the University of Michigan where he would not only receive a master’s degree but a Ph.D. as well.

After graduation, Dr. Fathi took a visiting assistant professorship position at Georgia Tech. But after a couple of years, he decided to pursue a career with an engineering consulting firm in Europe. “I wanted to see what it was like in the industrial [engineering] world,” said Dr. Fathi. “I traveled to Korea working for this Italian company which was an exciting thing. But after a short time I realized that I wanted to be in academia.”

So he returned to Georgia Tech and began looking for a permanent teaching position. His first position was assistant professor at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Later he applied for a faculty position at NC State. “At that time NC State was a growing program and there was a lot of excitement,” said Dr. Fathi. “Luckily for me, they accepted my application.” That was 1984. Dr. Fathi became the co-director of the Operations Research Program in 2003. In 2010, the department named him Director of Graduate Programs. “It is the interaction with the students that I find is the most satisfying aspect of the job,” said Dr. Fathi. “It gives me the opportunity to meet and talk with the students.”

Professor Fathi shared one of the most satisfying experiences of his career. He started working with the Furniture Manufacturing and Management Center and a small consulting firm in Raleigh, Barr-Mullin, Inc. The project involved cutting methods used by wood processing companies in North Carolina. “With funding from the National Science Foundation (NSF), we developed more efficient methods for cutting wood. This allowed them to get more useable wood out of each tree,” said Dr. Fathi. “Those savings translated into higher profits and the need for fewer trees at the same time.” The project was so successful that its results were adopted by many lumber processing mills around the world.

Today Professor Fathi continues his teaching, research and his love of gardening. “I like to grow things. That is what I like to do. But I couldn’t make a living out of growing things. Some people can, but I couldn’t,” joked Dr. Fathi. “I also love literature and poetry from all over the world.”