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African Statistical Conference Meets Needs Worldwide

1 July 2017 30 views No Comment
Barry D. Nussbaum, ASA President

    An excellent set of presentations and meaningful dialogue were the hallmarks of the Fourth African International Conference on Statistics held in Limpopo, South Africa, March 20–23. The program was a joint venture of the University of Limpopo and University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).

    From left: Bimal Sinha, University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Yehenew Kifle, University of Limpopo; N.M. Mokgalong, University of Limpopo

    From left: Bimal Sinha, University of Maryland, Baltimore County; Yehenew Kifle, University of Limpopo; N.M. Mokgalong, University of Limpopo

    Attendance numbered about 130, and, importantly, this attendance was sustained for the entire conference. The conference’s central theme was “New Methods of Data Analysis with Applications to Big Data.” The conference featured speakers from four continents and represented a vast exchange of information among academic professors, industry stalwarts, and eager students. Some of the featured talks addressed the statistical challenges of Big Data, strategies for dealing with Big Data, confidentiality of data, and “hidden data.”

    As with many conferences, the hallway, coffee break, and meal-time conversations were most enlightening. But, in addition to these informal discussions, a spirited panel session titled, “How to Retain African Statisticians in Africa,” concluded the conference. This session highlighted special concerns on the continent such as students frequently not having have sufficient funds to complete their undergraduate degrees, students with undergraduate degrees finding jobs in Africa and not pursuing higher degrees, and students pursuing higher degrees in the United States and not returning to Africa.

    Perhaps the two most substantive comments about the conference were that it happened at all, and it is the fourth in as many years. While international conferences certainly are not new and the passports of many prominent statisticians have enough stamps to rival even State Department employees, Africa has not typically been the site for these. So what was the breakthrough? The catalyst for these conferences was not found in Africa, but, somewhat remarkably, in Baltimore!

    The UMBC Mathematics and Statistics Department and its statistics program founder, Bimal Sinha, recognized the need to include the growing number of African statisticians into the many conferences and information exchanges. Several African students had successfully completed their PhD studies at UMBC, and it seemed apparent further involvement of African students was warranted. Sinha, along with his UMBC statistics colleagues, engaged African colleagues and, with considerable and persistent actions, the first conference was held in 2014 in Senegal. Its success was followed by more well-attended conferences in Ethiopia (2015), Cameroon (2016), and South Africa (2017).

    As ASA president, I was honored to be invited as chief guest and asked to address the conferees on the first day. I think of this as another ASA activity designed to meet the needs of statisticians worldwide. We are undertaking a major initiative to assist Asian statisticians. This conference demonstrates the obligation and ability of the ASA to serve our profession across the globe.

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