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“I’ve always been interested in understanding how things work and the consequences of my actions,” says Sébastien Martin, an assistant professor of operations at Kellogg. As early as his childhood, the “hows” and “whys” of life intrigued Martin, and as he grew older, his curiosity turned toward technology. He sought to learn more about how computers work, and he has parlayed this fascination into building a cross-disciplinary career that includes developing and optimizing algorithms within the public policy and transportation sectors.

As one of the newer faculty members at Kellogg, Martin is entering his fourth year teaching Operations Management (OPNS) for Full-Time and Evening & Weekend MBA students.  “I feel so lucky to have this job and to have all these interactions with the students because I’m learning a lot from them. Sometimes, there is a top-down approach to teaching, but it’s a two-way exchange — it’s beautiful,” says Martin. He enters each classroom with humility and a willingness to learn from students as much as they do from him. He enjoys his role as an educator and is also mindful of not being a controlling force in the classroom.

Martin’s teaching approach mirrors his attitude toward algorithms. “No algorithm can tell you how to do something. It can tell you the best way to accomplish an objective, but in real life there are many objectives,” he shares. He sees himself as a conduit for fostering creative problem-solving. He’s keenly aware that life itself is very complex with an unlimited number of possibilities and that artificial intelligence (AI) has simply only magnified a world of innovation.

One such example is his contribution to enabling efficient and equitable transportation systems. Collaborating with the Boston Public School District, Martin developed an algorithm that decides the best routes that the school buses will take. Transportation is one of the many spokes in education equity, and tackling complex problems like this requires using all the tools available while developing relationships with partners and stakeholders.

“You want to create something very technical that works well and makes smart decisions,” says Martin. “But at the same time, you want to consider how people think about a problem or issue and any political or policy aspects.” So, for Martin, it’s important to consider not only the possible impact that technology and AI can create but also the non-technical aspects like understanding the consequences when put into practice and determining the best way to use them.

He stresses the importance of leading this process with empathy to bridge the gap between application and impact. “You can use an algorithm to figure out the transportation system of a school district like I did in Boston. You use your technical expertise, but you're not a parent nor a principal,” Martin explains. “You don't know all the details of the school district, and this can create a lot of worry, so it’s important to have those soft skills and enlist partners who can shed light along the way.” 


“If you only know the technical aspect of things like coding and writing algorithms, you'll miss the big picture. You need to talk to people and need to understand the depth of the problem.”
Sebastien Martin
Assistant Professor of Operations


Getting to the root of problems starts with understanding the full picture 

Efficiency is at the core of organizational operations, but what does efficiency mean? “Every company and every person have a different definition of what it means to be efficient,” explains Martin. “Having a solid understanding of how companies or nonprofits work is tremendously important to be able to optimize them.” Optimization can take shape in many forms like creating structure to writing algorithms or AI that help make decisions within that system.

He explores this in his OPNS course which has also become part of the MBAi Program curriculum, an AI-focused MBA from Kellogg and the McCormick School of Engineering. Martin has been particularly excited about his involvement with the school’s newest degree program offering because he believes it cements the fact that technology is a fundamental part of any business and that business leaders need to adopt an expansive outlook on technology. It is ushering in a new combination of skills for business leaders. “Students have either a very technical or business background, but they are starting to realize that having one foot on both sides is useful," says Martin of why the MBAi Program is relevant now more than ever. 

For him, one of the most appealing aspects of the MBAi Program is that students don’t need to have an extensive technical background. “If you only know the technical aspect of things like coding and writing algorithms, you'll miss the big picture,” says Martin. “You need to talk to people and need to understand the depth of the problem." As a professor at Kellogg, he sees how faculty are innovators because of how they approach their course material and consistently reevaluate their curriculum to provide students with a high-quality learning experience aimed at building a well-rounded business education.  

One way in which Martin has pushed classroom innovation is through the recently launched AI teaching assistant (AI TA) for students taking his course. He is one of the first, if not the first, professors at a business school who is adopting generative AI to facilitate learning via a digitally powered teaching assistant pilot program. This AI assistant mimics a TA — without replacing them — and helps create a seamless learning environment. It can centralize information like course presentations, provide access to an array of resources, help navigate assignments and administer quizzes, among other tasks. It essentially acts as a one-stop shop, and so far, student feedback has been overwhelmingly positive. Students are even asking for it to be available in other courses. 

Sebastien Martin, one of his former students and another Kellogg professor developed an AI teaching assistant (AI TA) for students taking his course.
The welcome page that Kellogg MBA students see when interacting with Martin and team's AI teaching assistant (AI TA) for the OPNS course.
Sebastien Martin, one of his former students and another Kellogg professor developed an AI teaching assistant (AI TA) to support student learning.
An example of an assignment generated through the AI TA.

True to the spirit of collaboration inside the MBAi Program — and within Kellogg as a whole — the AI TA is the brainchild of Martin, his colleague associate professor Robert Bray, and one of his former MBAi students, Ankit Singh ’24. They partnered to develop this AI tool to help improve learning engagement and outcomes. “Ankit’s MBAi background was the perfect fit to develop an AI for MBAs and working with a former student is both rewarding and humbling.  I am glad that the school's inclusive and collaborative culture fosters these opportunities.” 

Understanding that knowledge is a two-way street, Martin treats his students as equals and enlists them as thought partners. At the same time, he is also ready to challenge them to help them grow. Students in his OPNS course have plenty of experiential learning opportunities, including an unexpected activity during the second half of the quarter that has become a student favorite. “We build paper houses, and throughout the weeks teams will be cutting and stapling paper together — there ends up being paper everywhere. It sounds silly, but the activity is very relevant to all of the material,” says Martin. “Throughout this hands-on experience, students see the role that process and communication play in operations unfolding in front of their eyes rather than just theoretically.”

For Martin, mathematics and computational thinking have offered assurance and answers to his inquisitive mind. “Many of my students have a big question, ‘What do we need to know to be successful in the world that's about to come?’” he says. “I think the answer is very complex, and, in my opinion, right now nobody has any clue what will happen.” So, while no one can predict the future, let alone how technology and AI will continue to evolve and impact the business world, Martin can bet on one thing: harnessing technology’s full potential in business will require a blend of technical skills and a human-centered approach. 

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