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Saying ‘Yes‘ to ASA Enhances Career

1 September 2014 335 views No Comment
The ASA celebrates its 175th anniversary this year. Column “175”—written by members of the ASA’s 175th Anniversary Steering Committee and other ASA members—will chronicle the theme chosen for the celebration, status of preparations, activities to take place, and, best yet, how you can get involved in propelling the ASA toward its bicentennial.

Contributing Editor Ron Wasserstein
Ron Wasserstein is the ASA’s executive director and president of Kappa Mu Epsilon National Mathematics Honor Society. Previously, he was vice president for academic affairs at Washburn University.

In his president’s address at JSM 2014 last month in Boston, Nat Schenker asked and answered the question, “Why should you get involved with the ASA?” His answer addressed three important values that are direct and tangible benefits of ASA membership: community, diversification, and education.

Schenker shared his experiences—and those of other members—about how actively being engaged in various ASA communities had added value to his career, how the diverse opportunities for involvement have enhanced his and others’ professional lives, and how the rich educational experiences that come from the diverse ASA community provide the technical and personal skills to remain vital and in demand. He called on all members to get involved in their society, saying in doing so they will discover the real value the ASA brings.

For this month’s Column 175, we asked some of the volunteer superstars of the association to tell us how and why they got involved in the ASA. These extraordinary volunteers are past honorees of the ASA’s Founders Award, which is the association’s most prestigious recognition of service. The detailed stories of these dedicated members are provided below, but here are several intriguing story lines:

  • Opportunities provided by senior members of the profession helped Lynne Stokes in important ways.
  • Service in their local ASA chapters launched 1997 ASA President Jon Kettenring, 2001 ASA President Dick Scheaffer, 2003 ASA President Bob Mason, 2005 ASA President Fritz Scheuren, and Jessica Utts—who recently was elected 2016 ASA president—into careers of ASA volunteer service. For Mary Batcher, Mike Kutner, and Jeri Mulrow, extraordinary volunteerism also began with their local chapters.
  • For Bob Starbuck and Judy Tanur, involvement in an ASA section got them started as ASA volunteers.
  • Committee service was the initial key to involvement for 1996 ASA President Lynne Billard.
  • Early involvement in conference programming and editorial service provided great opportunities for Roger Hoerl.
  • Susan Ellenberg saw a need for statisticians to be involved in science fairs. She stepped up to meet that need and the results are still very much in evidence today. Jerry Moreno saw tremendous need and opportunity in statistics education. The results of his service also are having an ongoing impact.
  • People willing to serve as mentors helped get David Morganstein, who will be 2015 ASA president, involved in the association.
  • David Scott and John Boyer encourage young people to attend ASA meetings, noting the network of connections (and friendships) they’ve made have been enormously beneficial both personally and professionally. JSM attendance and involvement also was an early key to career and personal success for Wendy Alvey.

Characteristic of these volunteers is their willingness to say “yes” when there are needs for their active, hands-on involvement and service in the ASA. We hope their stories will motivate your involvement in the ASA in its 175th anniversary year and beyond.

Lynne Stokes

Way back in the dark ages, I was working at the Census Bureau. Barbara Bailar was several layers above me there, but somehow, she asked around for volunteers to go down to the ASA office (which was in Washington itself, as I recall) to help tally surveys of members—by hand yet. A small group of us, including Barbara, worked on a Saturday afternoon there. We had a good time, and I was hooked on volunteering for the ASA.

Fast forward a number of years, and Bill Schucany called me and asked if I would consider being editor of The American Statistician. I had known Bill for a long time, but not well, and felt honored that he thought I could do the job. I would have never considered volunteering myself for the position.

Jon Kettenring

In the late 1970s, an ASA chapter was created in northern New Jersey. I was working at Bell Labs at the time. Several of us signed up to help. I served as program chair during the first year and then as the second president in the following year. With those experiences, I was asked to represent the chapter on the ASA Council [of Chapters]. I became the vice chair of the council in 1980 and chair in 1981. In subsequent years, I took on a variety of other national roles. Looking back, at least in my case, I had the good fortune to gain valuable early experience at the local level, which helped prepare me to take on more responsibility as the years went by. I had no such plan or expectation that any of this would happen. It just did. I enjoyed it, I got a lot out of it. I was very lucky!Dick Scheaffer

Getting involved with ASA? Three things mark key activities that led me to ever-increasing involvement with the leading professional society in my field: chapters, committees, and sections. Of course, these three led to a fourth, as the JSM is where all ASA activities come together, receive their impetus, and move on to bigger and better programs. I was fortunate to have an active local chapter in the area in which I lived and worked, and it provided opportunities for young faculty members to become involved. Later, I was asked to join a committee in a field of interest (education), but if not asked, volunteer to serve on a committee of your choice. (Don’t be shy; volunteers are generally welcomed.) Those experiences led to my joining a section of the ASA (education, again, in my case.) As it turned out, that section was rather small at the time and needed new members and new energy, so involvement in a big way came quickly. (I suspect that most sections could use new ideas and energy from time to time.) So, volunteer in any or all of these activities and be willing to serve in whatever capacity opens up to you. With patient service, you will eventually become a leader.

Bob Mason

I started attending ASA meetings shortly after I had my first job. After a few years, and a job change, I settled in a city that had no ASA chapter. Feeling isolated, I helped organize and start the first local chapter. This led me to attend chapter representative meetings at the JSM, where I was soon nominated to be the chair of the Council of Chapters. Later, I was elected as a Board of Directors representative for the Council of Chapters. This led to chair positions on various committees, and eventually to being a recipient of the Founder’s Award. How might young statisticians have such success? I would encourage them to attend local, regional, and national ASA meetings; meet other statisticians and create a network of statistical friends; and, most importantly, actively volunteer to participate in ASA activities of interest to you. Join a chapter or section, volunteer for those mundane jobs that no one wants, make connections, and be sure to have fun along the way.

Fritz Scheuren

Why me, Lord?

I have been an ASA member for more than 50 years now. Some details have faded, but the JOY of my first Washington Statistical Society (then weekday evening) meeting in 1963 remains. Paul Grayson and Homer Jones took me. They were statisticians from my job. I joined the ASA in 1964 and began getting JASA even though, as an English major, I could not read very much of it. Graduate school was to change that, of course.

The WSS sessions, which I continued to attend regularly, were practical and kept my interest, even though my academics were still developing. My first real chance to “pay back” was the 1968 JSM, held at the Washington Shoreham that year. What I am doing now, of course, is “paying forward.”

Anyway, I got to carry billboards around that I put on easels outside each session and then wrote a report on what had happened, who came, and on lessons learned for next time. While never used then, the report writing was to stand me in good stead later, when I was SRMS (Survey Research Methods Section) program chair in 1978 and, later still, overall JSM program chair for my hero Margaret Martin in 1980!

Of course, if you hang around WSS chapter honey long enough (go to enough sessions), you get identified by the local worker bees as a “wanta’-be-a-bee.” And I guess I was.

Anyway, once I finished my PhD in 1972, I had a problem saying no. Loved nearly everyone, loved the work—whatever was asked of me. Became WSS methodology program chair in 1975.

Irene Hess, another hero, began to gather what were to become SRMS members, then in the Social Statistics Section, at JSM meetings. Barbara Bailar asked me to be the first SRMS program chair. And there were more YES’s to follow—a lot more, but enough already. Barbara, whom I would have done anything for, was the person who also asked me to run for ASA president! What a small, joy-filled, work-filled world the ASA has been.

Why not you?

By saying YES to the right people at the right times, I have had a greatly satisfying life. My whole life, not just the ASA part (if they were even separable), has been hard at various points, like everyone else’s, but filled with good fortune in the end.

Permit me a story, please? Mother Theresa was asked at one point if she could tell who was “holy.” She thought for a moment, then said NO. But, she then went on: I can tell by their actions whether they make themselves available to God.

The connection of her words to our goal here should be obvious. If you want to be a Founder, make yourself available!

Jessica Utts

I first got involved with ASA service when I was a graduate student at Penn State and the local State College Chapter was in danger of being disbanded for lack of activity. The statistics department head, Bill Harkness, asked if I would be willing to be president of the chapter, and I agreed to do it. Unfortunately, the chapter has since been disbanded—but not during my term in office! It was a long time before I got directly involved in ASA service again, but I was active in many other professional organizations (WNAR, IMS, Caucus for Women in Statistics, AAAS) and interacted with ASA in those roles, so I got to see how the societies interacted and how each had their own special role. Professional service has always been very rewarding for me because of the great networking opportunities, the friendships and camaraderie that develop from working on a common goal, and the feeling that I’m part of a larger effort to benefit our profession and colleagues in ways that no individual, or even any one society, can accomplish alone.

Mary Batcher

When I started full-time employment as a statistician, I was highly motivated to connect with the larger statistical community in Washington, DC. I started going to short courses and the local ASA chapter, the Washington Statistical Society (WSS), lunchtime seminars. I also joined a couple of sections. (With the options of joining some sections free for one year, my section membership has been increasing over time.) At some point, someone asked me to run for representative-at-large of WSS and that got me involved with the WSS Board. I continued that for several years in one role or another, including president. Eventually, I was elected chair of the Council of Chapters and that led to a role on a few committees. I have been continuously active in one role or another for several years. I greatly value the networking opportunities with other statisticians and the opportunity to support my professional association, the ASA. My advice to others who want to get involved is to call or email your local chapter president or the chair of the section that is of most interest and volunteer.

Mike Kutner

After completing my doctoral degree at Texas A&M University, I matriculated to the department of statistics and biometry in the school of medicine at Emory University. I attended virtually all the monthly meetings of the Atlanta Chapter of the ASA. I ran successfully for the office of secretary, then vice president, and then president (1972–74). I was asked to serve on the Committee on Chapter, District, and Regional Activities (1974–76) and became chair of that committee (1977–70). I was vice chair of the Local Area Committee for the ASA meeting in Atlanta in 1975. I served as a member of the Ad Hoc Committee on Membership, Dues, and Publications (1975–76) and the Ad Hoc Committee on Chapters Outside the U.S. and Canada (1977–78). From 1979–82, I was vice chair of the Committee to Revise the Constitution and the Committee of Sections and Subsections. From 1978–80, I served as an associate editor of The American Statistician. I was elected to the ASA Board of Directors (1981–83) as the district representative and chaired the Budget Committee of the Board in 1983. I was inducted as an ASA Fellow in 1984. I did a second stint as president of the Atlanta Chapter of ASA (1984–86) and served on the executive committee for the Council of Chapters (1985–86). I served as a member of the Ad Hoc Committee on ASA Policy on Grants and Contracts (1984–86). I played a major role in coordinating and evaluating the ASA Winter Conferences (1987–89). I chaired the Finance Committee for the ASA Sesquicentennial (1988–89) and served as vice chair of the Publications Committee (1988–90). I chaired several nominating committees, including the selection of candidates for ASA president and vice president. I served on the Local Area Committee for the JSM in Atlanta in 1991. I served a second term on the ASA Board of Directors as the district representative (1993–95). In 1996, I was selected as a recipient of the ASA Founders Award. In 2001, I chaired the Local Area Committee for the annual Joint Statistical Meetings. From 2003–2008, I served on the Finance Committee. In 2011, I was the winner of the Wilfred J. Dixon Award for Excellence in Statistical Consulting. I now serve on the Wilfred J. Dixon Selection Committee, which I will chair in 2015.

It has been a great honor and privilege for me to be involved in many ASA service activities, and I strongly encourage every ASA member to get involved professionally with the ASA. It has been a very rewarding experience.

Jeri Mulrow

I first became a member of the ASA at the behest of my statistics department chair as a graduate student at Colorado State University. In addition, the chair and statistics faculty all encouraged students to participate in the annual Colorado-Wyoming Chapter meeting and to present some aspect of their research. When I moved to Washington, DC, the head of my statistical agency strongly encouraged staff to participate in the Washington Statistical Society and to get involved on the board. So I volunteered to organize short courses. After that, I volunteered to coordinate WSS social events, at which I had the opportunity to meet a wide variety of members. I was tapped to be a member of the ASA Membership Committee, which gave me a new opportunity to participate in the organization at the national level.

I would encourage everyone, including students, to get involved in their local chapters. Additionally, I would encourage everyone to get involved with one or two sections of their interest. Start out volunteering for activities that interest you and involve you with other members of the chapter and section. Don’t be afraid to run for an office. It can be very rewarding to work with other statisticians on ASA activities, and it provides a way to meet new people you might not meet through your daily work.

Bob Starbuck

I have been a member of the ASA for more than 40 years. As I reached mid-career, I became more engaged in ASA activities and sought opportunities to provide contributions and leadership to ASA initiatives. My first significant involvement was with the Biopharmaceutical Section, a natural fit with my career in the pharmaceutical industry; I ultimately became chair of this section. My employer was a Corporate Member of the ASA, and I represented the company as such. That led to my chairing the Corporate Member Representatives and leading the effort to establish SPAIG, which promotes partnering among academe, industry, and government. I also helped establish the Deming Lectureship Endowment Fund and chaired the Deming Lectureship Committee. These and other involvements led to my chairing the Committee on Fellows and the Nominations Committee, as well as my participation on several ASA president’s task forces.

In addition, I have been able to contribute to the statistics profession as an educator by presenting seminars on the use of statistics in a clinical trial setting at numerous universities throughout the United States and teaching a course on presentation skills to statisticians, both at ASA meetings and in other settings.

The above accomplishments primarily required a desire to provide a meaningful service to the ASA and the statistics profession, as well as a personal drive and commitment to fulfill that desire. The rewards have been many, including making many lifelong friends along the way.

Judith Tanur

I started being active in ASA in 1974, when I was elected publications officer of the Section on Statistical Education. (I later got to serve as chair of that section, as well as the Survey Research Methods and Social Statistics sections.) Then, after I had attended a short course, I was appointed to the short course committee in 1976. It was in the 1980s, however, that I really got heavily involved, becoming a member of the council and then its vice chair in 1983. My big break arrived when, after serving a stint as associate editor of the book review section of JASA, I was chosen as JASA‘s first female book review editor in 1986. This was concurrent with my service on the ASA Board of Directors. I was delighted to be nominated for ASA president in 2000 … and relieved when I lost the election to Richard Schaeffer. As to advice to others, I can only say that I’ve derived a lot of satisfaction from service to the ASA, made many good friends, helped to win some contested issues, and had a lot of fun doing it all. I suspect others would derive similar pleasures.

Roger Hoerl

I got involved in ASA service fairly early in my career, in the late 80s. I served on conference program committees, and then became an associate editor for Technometrics, jointly published by the ASA and ASQ (American Society for Quality). I continued to get involved in various ways, partly because I have a hard time saying no, but partly because I saw the benefits I was receiving from my service. I can honestly say that my service to the ASA has had a significant impact on my career. I met and worked with some top people in statistics, which enhanced my network. This network helped me numerous times over the years. In addition, serving on ASA committees helped develop leadership and other nontechnical skills that affected my career profoundly. While I have served, and continue to serve, in a number of capacities with the ASA, I can honestly say that I have received more from these engagements than I have put into them. I would like to think they have been examples of win-win relationships.

Susan Ellenberg

When my oldest child first became involved in science fairs, I saw that many projects used statistical methods to design and analyze data—some well, some poorly. It seemed to me that it would be a good idea to have an award for excellent use of statistics in a science project—not necessarily a project entered in the mathematics category—to increase awareness of the discipline of statistics among math- and science-oriented students. I approached the Washington Statistical Society about establishing such an award for the regional science fairs held in the Washington, DC, area and received enthusiastic support.

This initiative required soliciting about 30 volunteer judges (we needed multiple judges per fair because judges had to review all projects in each of the 13 science fair categories), developing judging criteria, obtaining funding for modest book prizes, presenting the awards at the science fair awards ceremonies, and sending letters of congratulations to winners and their schools. After our first year, I took the next step of approaching the ASA about establishing such an award at the International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), where the winners of the regional science fairs competed. The ASA agreed to support such an award, and I undertook the organization of these activities as well. I continued to organize both the statistical judging program at the DC-area science fairs and the ISEF for some years, and was delighted when the ASA Council of Chapters volunteered to assume responsibility for the statistical awards program at the ISEF.

Jerry Moreno

Looking back over my 50 years as an ASA member, my service in statistics education began in earnest promoting Quantitative Literacy and Data-Driven Mathematics through numerous workshops nationally and in Ohio through the Cleveland Chapter. I led the creation of the ASA Poster Competition in 1989, was editor of the Statistics Teacher Network for over a decade, and served on the incredibly productive ASA/NCTM Joint Committee for several years. I was fortunate to be a writer of the GAISE Report for pre-K–12 as well as Bridging the Gap, which provides statistics activities for middle school teachers. I’m forever thankful for the ASA’s commitment to statistics education for schools and I hope to continue to further its efforts in any way I can. Thank you, ASA.

David Morganstein

One of the reasons I was interested in getting involved in the WSS and subsequently the ASA was the senior statisticians (I could say mentors) with whom I worked. Many of them had been involved, themselves, and they encourage the new, young (well, I was back then) members of our statistics group to do the same. Of course, a number of them were already ‘retired’ and this job was their second career. As a result, they had a very strong desire to ‘give back’ as a way to demonstrate their appreciation. There was also the sense of responsibility to the profession, that in addition to professional work, we could strengthen our profession through involvement in our society and our association. As for advice, step right up! You are needed and welcome. There is a lot to do and new, creative, and enthusiastic talent is not just welcome, but needed. Get involved in your local chapter or your section. After you’re more familiar with the opportunities and have learned about the specifics, you’ll make connections with people and you’ll find activities that interest you. Becoming a part of this active community may well be a turning point in your career. It will certainly introduce you to other very talented and knowledgeable fellow statisticians—people who may turn out to be career-long friends! I did …

David Scott

When Ron Wasserstein asked winners of the Founders Award for a short recollection of how they became involved with the ASA, I wished to weigh in. On campuses these days, too many young faculty are given advice to only focus on research, that time spent on teaching and service will not be recognized. Those same individuals will often opine that the national meetings are too big and a waste of time.

What a shame to miss the opportunities that make the academic life a pleasure: meeting some of the smartest and most interesting people in the profession, browsing the aisles for new books available to improve your teaching, or delving into new research areas. There is nothing more satisfying than running into a former student who recalls how influential your intro stat class was in their career.

So work hard on your research, but get out of your office. Attend as many meetings as you can, contribute papers, volunteer to organize sessions, follow your interests. Join your local ASA chapter, volunteer to referee papers and grants, respond to requests for consulting at work and in your community, and work hard to always make your statistical practice professional.

Finding a good mentor who can recommend you for appointments is always an effective option. Finally, if you do have the opportunity to serve on a committee—whether in your department, your university, or with the ASA—try to be proactive and contribute in a constructive manner. This is not a résumé-padding activity. Good habits start young, so join the statistics network and see where it takes you.

John Boyer

The ASA has been really good for me, and I am pleased to be asked to describe what has worked best for me. In my mind, it’s pretty simple. There are two critical pieces to getting involved:

  1. Go to JSM every year and jump into what’s there. (That means give talks, attend talks and poster sessions, and attend section meetings. And go to mixers of all sorts, especially the ones for the whole JSM. Be happy to meet new people.)
  2. Get as involved as you can be in chapters and sections. Volunteer for duties on committees and task forces. Accept nominations if asked to run for office or serve in a capacity.

As a footnote, I will add that one of my BIG pushes has always been for senior people to continually look for younger folks to serve the chapters, sections, and committees. That means nominating them for positions like program chair, secretary, treasurer, etc.—even before they are terribly well acquainted with the organization or its membership. This has the obvious benefit of giving the young people opportunities for involvement, but the side benefit to the chapter, section, or committee is that it lengthens the institutional memory—these folks may be involved for a long time. And as they mature and assume the upper leadership positions, they will then have a greater understanding of the task/mission of the group they are a part of.

Wendy Alvey

In 1974, we were working for the Social Security Administration (SSA) on an innovative joint agency project—the 1973 Current Population Survey-Internal Revenue Service-Social Security Administration Exact Match Study. The project combined a limited number of variables from the two administrative record sources with some U.S. Census Bureau survey records for the same individuals under very restrictive conditions. The plan was to produce a public-use file that contained selected items from each of the three sources, providing files with data theretofore unavailable. It was a heady experience for entry-level researchers just 4–5 years out of college!

The SSA’s Division of Economic and Long-Range Studies was a small unit in the Office of Research and Statistics in Washington, DC. It was composed mainly of economists and one senior statistician, supported by lower-level researchers and programmers and administrative staff. The tradition was that the PhDs could each attend their annual conference. That meant that only the head of our staff could go to the Joint Statistical Meetings (JSM). Our project leader at that time was Fritz Scheuren (well-known throughout the statistical community for decades and served as the 100th president of the ASA), who decided to put this practice to the test.

Scheuren argued the case that we were doing innovative work and that he wanted to take a number of the more junior statisticians, economists, and programmers working on the Exact Match Study to JSM. He knew from experience that it would provide an opportunity to inform others about our work and gain input from potential data users. Furthermore, he guaranteed that—though we were new at this—we would be prepared and reflect well on the division. After some consideration, the director gave us the go-ahead. So, we got busy writing our speeches, hand-drawing our overhead transparencies, and practicing among ourselves and in front of others. By the end of July, we were all set to attend our first JSM in St Louis, Missouri!

Doing our first professional presentations in front of all those accomplished professionals was definitely a daunting and nerve-wracking event! But we were well-prepared and did just fine. It was to become the first of more than three decades of involvement with the ASA, including active roles volunteering at the local and national levels and holding appointed and elective offices in the chapter, on committees, and in several sections. In fact, our methods for preparing for the 1974 and subsequent meetings became the model for a workshop on improving presentations at JSM, in which we participated for a number of years. Our practices attracted many future presenters and helped to raise the bar on presentation techniques, especially the use of handouts and overheads.

We clearly have come a long way since those days of computer punch cards and hand-drawn overhead transparencies, but the effort to include more junior staffers in technical presentations not only led to our own personal growth and development, but also provided valuable benefits for the organization we represented and, in the long run, to the ASA. This kind of involvement of younger staff is critical to the ongoing expansion and success of the ASA.

Mentoring new statisticians and users of statistics extends the reach of the association and brings in new members to contribute fresh ideas and perspectives. Some of the ASA sections recognized the importance of such guidance 11 years ago, when they supported Andy Orlin’s desire to establish a mentoring award in memory of his late wife, Jeanne E. Griffith, to recognize the contributions of mentors in the federal statistical community. The award has been presented annually ever since.

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