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Joe Ward: A Champion for Statistics Education

1 September 2012 1,809 views No Comment
Joe Ward

Joe Ward

Melissa Muko, ASA Production Coordinator and Graphic Designer


One could say that education was in Joe Ward’s blood. Growing up in Texas, his parents were both teachers and athletic coaches, with his father going on to serve as the director of the local YMCA and his mother becoming a principal of an elementary school in San Antonio. As a teenager, Ward was active in sports—football, basketball, and track—and discovered that his favorite subject in school was math. These interests led him to have early career aspirations and follow in the footsteps of his parents by becoming a math teacher and basketball coach.

After graduating from high school in 1943, Ward attended The University of Texas at Austin and enrolled in the Navy V-12 Electrical Engineering program. (The V-12 Navy College Training Program was designed to supplement the force of commissioned officers in the U.S. Navy during World War II.) He served in the Navy from 1944–1946 and re-entered the university as a mathematics major upon discharge. He earned his BA in 1946, MA in education psychology in 1949, and PhD in educational psychology and mathematics in 1953—all from UT Austin.

In 1949, Ward married his college sweetheart, Bettie Branson, and moved back to San Antonio, where he taught math at the Texas Military Institute. He moved on in 1951 to work as a research scientist for the U.S. Air Force for the next 30 years.

As a research scientist, Ward developed a number of innovative strategies using computer models in the Air Force Human Resources Laboratory, including a hierarchical clustering procedure that was used extensively in the U.S. Air Force’s Comprehensive Occupational Data Analysis Program—a decision index used for sequential classification of personnel to jobs—and a policy development approach for combining multiple measures of outcomes into a single value. He also made time to attend summer statistical programs at the University of Florida, North Carolina State University, and Virginia Tech.

In 1966, Ward took a five-year leave of absence from the Air Force to serve as the director of an educational technology project for the Southwest Educational Development Lab, which developed computer-based scheduling and instructional modules for the public education system. Then, in 1973, Ward collaborated with Earl Jennings at UT Austin to author Introduction to Linear Models.

Giving Back

Ward had a passion for learning and a love for sharing his knowledge with children. He worked with San Antonio youth in many arenas—statistics, computers, science fairs, and basketball—and became a champion for statistics education.

Honors and Awards for Community Service and Educational Work

San Antonio’s Civil Servant of the Year Award in 1963 (professional and scientific career category)

The YMCA of San Antonio and the Hill Country 1994 Gene Holmgreen Outstanding Volunteer Leadership

Texas State Board of Education 1997 Hero for Children Award

The Northside Independent School District 1997 Partnership Award for Outstanding Intergenerational Volunteer of the Year

The Northwest YMCA 1998 Volunteer of the Year Award

The Coca-Cola Scholars Foundation and the Joseph B. Whitehead Foundation 2001 Educator of Distinction Award

Dr. Joe Ward Elementary School, opened August 2003

2006 ASA Founders Award

In 1959, before computers were introduced into high schools, Ward volunteered to teach an introduction to computers class to high-school students and teachers. These free classes continued for approximately 10 years, until schools started to add computer classes to their regular curricula.

For many years, he volunteered as an instructor at the Northside Health Careers High School in San Antonio, teaching an independent studies statistics course for credit. He taught computer basics and applications of statistics to any student who was eager to learn and provided valuable assistance to both students and teachers in their efforts to use statistics and computers in research. He also encouraged and assisted teachers in introducing Advanced Placement Statistics courses into their curricula.

Ward was a co-sponsor of the Biostatistics/Research Club (an extracurricular program that provided activities to develop competence in the application of statistics) that was active at the high school from 1995–2001. He also loved to mentor students with their science fair projects, giving them guidance as to what statistical methods were best to use. He often traveled across the country as a judge for the International Science and Engineering Fairs.

Ward had a unique approach to teaching. He believed you should introduce students to statistical data analysis topics as needed, without having them deal with ideas that are not essential. He said this approach allowed students to make maximum use of the mathematics they have learned, so that they can see the value of the skills they have acquired. Ward also said the main objective was to “sell” students on the value of the new ideas for their research projects and to maintain a positive attitude toward statistical analysis.

Outside of the classroom, Ward continued with his love of basketball and spent many years coaching at the YMCA and teaching basketball and life skills to San Antonio youth.

Hero for Children

Ward developed many programs and services that had a positive effect on the education community and the lives of students he encountered. His zest for life, educational beliefs, and community involvement were the motivations behind his efforts. He took pride in volunteering and encouraged educators to “catch the children being good.”

In 1997, he was honored as Northside’s Outstanding Intergenerational Volunteer in appreciation for “outstanding service to Northside Independent School District students in a School-Business Community Partnership with Health Careers High School.” That same year, he was recognized by the Texas State Board of Education as a “Hero for Children” in recognition of his “outstanding contributions to the success of the Texas Public Education System.”

Ward’s work in education in San Antonio culminated in December 2001, when the Northside Independent School District Board of Trustees announced a new school would be named the “Dr. Joe Ward Elementary School” to honor his many years of volunteer work with the district. Ward called this one of the proudest moments of his life. “This recognition is the highest I could have received since my heart, mind, and body have always been devoted to education,” he stated. The school opened on August 18, 2003, and Ward spent the remainder of his life involved in the activities and projects of the school that was his namesake.

In 2006, Ward received an ASA Founders Award for “excellent efforts in K–12 education that are so far ranging an elementary school is named in his honor; for fundamental efforts with a Chapter; and for lasting efforts to make statistics understandable to the general population.”

Ward passed away on June 23, 2011, at the age of 84. He had been a member of the ASA since 1951.

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