Paul Cohen discovered his passion for industrial engineering at age 15 when his uncle, who had an industrial engineering consulting firm in New York City, asked for help with some time studies and plant layout designs. Over the next 50+ years, Cohen would help tens of thousands of students, clients and colleagues with all aspects of industrial engineering. During that time, he earned a long prestigious list of accomplishments, honors and national awards. But if you ask anyone who knows him, it has never been “about Paul.”
Cohen’s journey to NC State began in 2006 with a phone call to ISE professor Robert Young, a longtime friend, regarding an international exchange program he ran with three universities in Brazil. But during the call, the conversation moved to the open department head position in the ISE Department. “I had visited NC State several years prior and had a good impression of the Department,” recalled Cohen. He felt the position was attractive given there was a solid base to build on, a supportive interdisciplinary environment and excellent leadership in the College of Engineering. The opportunity to be involved with designing a new building for industrial engineering education and research. Although the Great Recession in 2008 stalled the project for several years, Fitts-Woolard Hall was worth the wait.
In 2007, the Department had excellent faculty and students but was not as well recognized as it should have been. During the ten years that Cohen led the Department, its stature and national reputation grew significantly. During these ten years, his leadership included recruiting and retaining outstanding faculty, growth in student enrollment and research productivity and positioned the Department as a true leader among ISE departments nationwide.
Through all that success, Cohen never made it “about Paul” but rather about what he could do to help and support others. “He is truly a selfless leader who leads by example and actions,” shared College of Engineering Dean Louis Martin-Vega. “Whether it be as a teacher, mentor or researcher. While his love of ‘manufacturing’ lies at the heart of his academic and research pursuits, his love for ‘people’ and helping and supporting all who surround him makes him stand out.”
It is safe to say that the Dean speaks for everyone in Engineering. “I want to thank Paul for everything he has done for the students, faculty and staff in the Fitts ISE Department and for all of us in the College of Engineering who have had the privilege to know and work with him since his arrival at NC State,” he said. “We are in Paul’s debt for his outstanding dedication and commitment to the Fitt’s ISE Department, our College and NC State and wish him the very best as he moves into the next stage of his journey.”
If you count his days as a teaching assistant, Cohen has taught at three different universities, all told, over 9000 students at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. He believes that teaching and advising connect you to students in a very personal way,” Cohen confided. “My advice to our graduates is never to stop learning and be willing to take risks. Stay passionate about what you do and stay connected to the Department and its faculty.” He has students he taught many years ago who still stay in contact and meets them at professional meetings and company visits. “It’s one of the best perks of the job,” he said.
Cohen plans to stay active professionally through research, so you may still see him in Fitts-Woolard Hall. He’d also like to visit more places on his bucket list, domestically and internationally. “Having always been interested in photography, I hope to document my trips and hike/photograph the waterfalls of North Carolina,” Cohen promised.
So what gift could anyone give a person that has always put others first? How about sharing his hope that the Carolina Hurricanes can raise the Stanley Cup again here in Raleigh sometime soon?