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Local Rand office headed by brain among CMU brains

Thursday, March 23, 2000

By Dan Fitzpatrick, Post-Gazette Staff Writer

By hiring Jonathan Caulkins to run its Pittsburgh office, California think tank Rand Corp. is getting one of the biggest brains at big-brained Carnegie Mellon University.

  Jonathan Caulkins

Caulkins, only 34, was a professor at CMU's Heinz School of Public Policy for nine years before he accepted the Rand assignment. He amazed students with his youth, his quick mind and his ability to calculate numbers in his head.

Katherine Bahnsen, a budget analyst in Mayor Murphy's Office of Management and Budget, remembers Caulkins multiplying and dividing five-digit figures without using a calculator.

"There is some sort of supercomputer up there," said Bahnsen, who was Caulkins' student and research assistant.

Caulkins is a fast learner, too.

At age 20, he got both his master's and bachelor's degrees from Washington University in St. Louis, studying systems science, engineering, computer science and mathematics.

At age 24, he got his doctorate in operations research from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, combining interests in engineering and applied math.

At CMU, Caulkins' management science class was one of the toughest courses at the Heinz School, several students said. He asked students to apply logic and math to decision-making and public policy problems.

"I took one class, and that was pretty much all I could take," said Julie DeSeyn, an Allegheny County development department employee who was Caulkins' student in the fall of 1997.

Among the brain-twisters tossed at DeSeyn and her colleagues was to figure out how many bubble gum drops would fit in a Hyundi automobile. Caulkins also asked them to figure out what year it stopped making sense economically to pick a penny off the sidewalk.

"It was the roughest course I took, by far," said DeSeyn, who referred to Caulkins' intelligence as "mind-boggling."

Prior to hiring Caulkins, Rand already was familiar with his work.

After Caulkins graduated from MIT and started work as a CMU professor, he spent several summers as a visiting scientist at Rand's California offices.

In 1994, he took an 18-month leave of absence to work for Rand's Drug Policy Research Center. Problems and policies concerning drugs, crime and violence were his interests.

"It was a whole lot of fun working at a place like Rand," Caulkins told the Post-Gazette last year.

In 13 years, Caulkins has won 13 grants, many of them for the study of drugs and violence. During that period, he also has been published 81 times, according to his resume.

Many of his journal articles again dealt with drugs, violence and the link between the two issues. Among his recent titles are "What Drug Dealers Tell Us About Their Costs of Doing Business" and "Are Mandatory Minimum Drug Sentences Cost-Effective?"

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