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2017 SPAIG Award Winners Announced

1 December 2017 No Comment
Fanni Natanegara of Eli Lilly and Company, Willis Jensen of WL Gore and Associates, and Ying Ding of the University of Pittsburgh on behalf of the ASA SPAIG Committee

Established in 2002, the SPAIG Award highlights outstanding partnerships among academe, industry, and government organizations. It also promotes new partnerships among these organizations. This award is distinct from other ASA awards in that it recognizes outstanding collaborations between organizations, while recognizing key individual contributors.

After a few years of hiatus, the SPAIG (Statistical Partnerships Among Academe, Industry, and Government) Committee received a number of high-quality nominations in 2017. Two awards were selected; both have equally demonstrated outstanding partnership across two or more sectors.

Award #1: National Science Foundation-Census Research Network (NCRN)

NCRN has addressed methodological questions of interest to the federal statistical system and is training future generations to design, conduct, analyze, and report official statistics. Established in 2011 in partnership with the National Science Foundation (NSF), NCRN is a highly effective, innovative academic-government partnership involving eight academic institutions, their partners from other universities, and the US Census Bureau. This partnership provides support for a set of research nodes, each of which is staffed by teams of researchers conducting interdisciplinary research and educational activities on methodological questions of interest and significance to the research community and federal statistical system.

Direct collaborations with the US Census Bureau have resulted in applied solutions to existing problems. For example, collaborations between the agency, Cornell, and Duke University researchers have advanced the agency’s ability to produce synthetic business data, enabling our public-use access to microdata without compromising confidentiality.

In terms of the productivity and impact of NCRN, Sarah Nusser, vice president for research and professor of statistics at Iowa State University, said, “[Productivity] has been impressive, including many publications in high-impact journals and statistical software (such as R packages) that are publicly available. In addition, many students have been trained in critical methodological areas, and the program has created a robust source of new talent much needed by US statistical agencies.”

In support of this nomination, John Thompson, director of the US Census Bureau, said, “I believe the NSF Census Research Network has helped bridge the gap between statistical practice and theory. It has also shown how important the integration of other disciplines—such as information science, computer science, and modern geo-spatial science—are to the work we do.”

This collaboration has won the SPAIG Award due to its broad impact due to many NCRN research activities over the past six years. The SPAIG Committee was impressed by the diverse achievements, including the novel method that significantly improves the accuracy of the tabulations from the Economic Census, production of synthetic business micro-data sets, and effective training of the next generation of statisticians. As evidenced by strong letters of support, the NCRN was an innovative collaboration that has had comprehensive benefits for students, researchers, and the broader statistical community. Key contributors include the following:

  • Robert Groves, Georgetown University
  • Myron Gutmann, University of Colorado
  • Cheryl Eavey, National Science Foundation
  • Daniel Weinberg, DHW Consulting
  • Matthew D. Shapiro on behalf of the University of Michigan
  • Bruce Spencer on behalf of Northwestern University
  • Lars Vilhuber on behalf of Cornell University
  • Jerome P. Reiter on behalf of Duke University
  • Scott H. Holan on behalf of the University of Missouri
  • Kristin Olson on behalf of the University of Nebraska – Lincoln
  • William Eddy on behalf of Carnegie Mellon University
  • David Folch on behalf of the University of Colorado/University of Tennessee

Award #2: Laboratory for Analytical Sciences (LAS)

Led by the National Security Agency (NSA) and North Carolina State University (NCSU), LAS partners broadly across academia, industry, and government to apply quantitative methodology and data science to improve national security.

The LAS, established in 2013 on the NCSU campus, was conceptualized as a ground-breaking initiative for the NSA—the establishment of a research center at a university that would conduct classified and unclassified research on new technologies and tradecraft that would help intelligence analysts solve future big data intelligence problems.

What makes the initiative at LAS unique is its ability to do the following:

  • Establish academic-industry-intelligence experts on research teams and have them work collaboratively to design and develop big data innovations of interest to the intelligence community (IC) in the US, Canada, and UK over a multi-year period
  • Co-locate research, technical, and mission staff from the IC to work together on these teams
  • Integrate science, technology, social science, business, and humanities expertise to create a truly interdisciplinary research program at the lab
  • Do this work in a largely unclassified setting

Each year, the LAS conducts about 30 projects. Recent projects include an adversarial risk analysis of the security of a water distribution system; topological data analysis to discover suspicious patterns of transportation behavior at public events; and a combination of sentiment analysis, network modeling, and topic modeling applied to political blogs to study polarization.

Highlighting the international collaboration is D’Arcy Walsh, science adviser of the Canadian Communications Security Establishment (CSE). He said, “Through the LAS collaboration model, there has been a two-way relationship supporting the work of graduate students in both Canada and the United States. Through VENUS (Virtual Environment for Networks of Ubiquitous Security), the LAS commissioned graduate students in Canada to investigate cyber safety concerns related to the convergence of operational technology and information technology, machine learning, and open-source systems engineering initiatives. To complement planned LAS investments, CSE commissioned graduate students in the United States to investigate online privacy, cyber training, and anticipatory thinking linked to smart cities.”

The breadth and depth of the projects LAS has collaborated on from May 2013 to early 2017 are both impressive and impactful. By late 2016, 52 government research, technical, and mission staff members were at LAS to work with 11 industry partners and 42 professors and their students from 11 universities.

Different organizations across multiple countries provided strong support as part of the nomination package. The SPAIG Committee was also impressed by the extensive and diverse nature of LAS, such as the engagement of many kinds of scientists, the massive embedding of NSA personnel with academic and industry researchers, and the widespread appearance of LAS research outputs in statistical and other journals and professional meetings. Key contributors include the following:

  • Alyson Wilson, North Carolina State University
  • Michael Bender, Laboratory for Analytic Science
  • Forrest Allen, North Carolina State University
  • Kay Moore, Laboratory for Analytic Science
  • David Harris, Department of Defense

Nominations for the 2018 SPAIG Award are due March 1, 2018. See the website for nomination forms and selection criteria.

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