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What Will Be Your Legacy?

1 March 2020 One Comment

Wendy Martinez

“Each generation stands on the shoulders of those who have gone before them …” So begins a quote by Stephen Hawking, and it captures the gratitude I have for the women who preceded me and continue to be a source of inspiration. I would add to this sentiment that support comes not only from past generations but from my contemporaries. I want to take the opportunity in this Women’s History Month President’s Corner to share some reflections about ASA women who have made an impact and continue to inspire me.

My reflections begin with the first female fellow of the Royal Statistical Society and honorary ASA member, Florence Nightingale. It is a testament to her legacy that we will celebrate the 200th anniversary of her birth with events happening around the globe.

On her birthday—May 2, 2020—the International Statistical Institute (ISI) will begin a celebration of the International Year for Women in Statistics and Data Science. In his February message, ISI President John Bailer describes this special celebration that will culminate at the World Statistics Congress in 2021.

Also in 2020, the RSS—in collaboration with the Health Foundation—will award the inaugural Florence Nightingale Award for Excellence in Healthcare Data Analytics.

Of course, ASA members have the opportunity to recognize her contributions by hosting a local Florence Nightingale Day event to inspire young women and men to pursue a career in statistics and data science. 

The theme for JSM 2020, “Everyone Counts: Data for the Public Good,” would resonate with Kate Holladay Claghorn, whose passion for social justice was central to all her work. She was born in 1864 and experienced many ‘firsts’ in her lifetime, including being named the first female fellow of the ASA in 1918 (see image below from Proceedings of the 80th Annual Meeting of the American Statistical Association, December 27–28, 1918).

She worked at the US Census Office, the New York Tenement House, and, in 1912, joined the faculty at the New York School of Social Work (or School of Applied Philanthropy at the time). She wrote articles and books, with perhaps the best known being The Immigrants’ Day in Court. 

Our community has a rich history of supporting statistical literacy and statistics education. The association’s first female president, Helen M. Walker, was a staunch advocate for statistics education, especially for nonstatisticians. This is particularly meaningful to me, as one of our ASA 2020 initiatives will focus on encouraging statistical thinking for our youth.

You may also recognize her name in connection with the Helen Walker Society, which is the first major ASA giving society. It is through donations to the Helen Walker Society and on ASA Giving Day that we can achieve much for our profession by supporting important programs in education, leadership, and more. 

A name, arguably as well known in the statistics world as Florence Nightingale, is Gertrude Cox. We celebrate her ‘firsts,’ including her election as the first woman member of ISI (1949) and her service as the first female department head at North Carolina State College (1941). In 1956, she became the third woman to serve as president of the ASA. Her legacy lives on through the Cox Scholarship, which is sponsored by the ASA and Caucus for Women in Statistics. This scholarship started in 1989 with the goal of encouraging women to pursue careers in statistics.

The American Statistical Association was founded when five members acted on a goal to promote the profession. This legacy of service continued when Bhramar Mukherjee and Amanda Golbeck got together at the Women in Statistics and Data Science Conference and made a plan to propose two lectureships named after women. Golbeck later commented, “Establishing a new named lecture slot at the JSM for the (Elizabeth L.) Scott Lecture and (F. N.) David Lecture is another significant step forward in advancing the statistics profession. It adds a face to the profession’s ongoing and growing commitment to diversity and inclusion.

The first was the David Lecture, which was given by Susan Ellenberg of the University of Pennsylvania (2019). The first Scott Lecture will be presented at JSM 2020. These prestigious lectures are included as part of the COPSS (Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies) set of awards and were established through the leadership and commitment of the ASA, CWS, ISI, Statistical Society of Canada, and International Biometric Society.

I am happy the ASA has done so much over the years to foster diversity and inclusion in both our association and our profession, and I take comfort knowing we will continue to do so in the future. 

Moving to the present, I want to acknowledge two contemporary women who have been wonderful role models and mentors: Karen Kafadar (2019 ASA president) and Lisa LaVange (2018 ASA president). It is fun to note (and interesting to me!) that 2019 was another year of firsts for our association, as it was the first time three ASA presidents in succession were women. 

The women I’ve mentioned are not the only people—women and men—who have inspired me. There is not enough room in this issue to describe them all. I encourage each of you to remember those who’ve inspired you in all aspects of your life—personally and professionally—and think about how you might inspire those who will come after us. What will be your legacy?

Gertrude Cox Scholarship
The Cox Scholarship, sponsored by the ASA Committee on Women in Statistics and Caucus for Women in Statistics, was established in 1989 to encourage more women to enter statistically oriented professions.

Two scholarship recipients are selected each year: a woman in or entering the early stages of graduate training (MS or PhD) and a woman in a more advanced stage of training. Scholarship recipients receive a certificate and $1,000.

The committee also selects honorable mentions each year. Honorable mentions receive a certificate.

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