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My ASA Story: Sastry G. Pantula, Dean, College of Natural Sciences at California State University, San Bernardino

1 January 2021 No Comment
This is a new series featuring ASA members who share their ASA stories. Our mission is to collect authentic and meaningful accounts of member experiences. If you have a story you would like to share, email the ASA’s marketing and communications coordinator, Kim Gilliam.

My advice to young statisticians is to engage with the ASA early and often.

photo courtesy of CSUSB photographer, Corrine McCurdy

“Engage to Excel” is the title of a PCAST report in 2012 I distinctly remember while I was at the National Science Foundation. It is also the mantra I am using now with our students at California State University, San Bernardino. It is very important for our students to engage with the university, especially during this pandemic while we are virtual. And my advice to young statisticians is to engage with the ASA early and often. In the process, we all excel! My engagement with the ASA has helped me in many ways in my career, and I hope I can be of help to others as they move up their ladder.

It all started with a simple nudge from my major professor, Wayne Fuller, at Iowa State to join the ASA as a student in 1980. In 1983, I gave my first JSM talk in Toronto. It is not the nervousness of giving a talk I remember, but rather the Opening Mixer. I stood next to Wayne, who is a magnet and center of attraction. I recall him introducing me to so many famous statisticians in one single evening. I think I have attended every single JSM since then, and I always make sure I stay with Wayne at the mixer—it is a networking Mecca! I also make sure I attend the Diversity Mentoring Program to connect with future graduate students, future faculty, future allies, and future leaders.

As a young faculty member at North Carolina State University (NCSU) in 1982, the local ASA chapter provided me a welcoming place to network with statisticians in the Research Triangle area, which had a large density of statisticians. Chapter meetings and seminars used to be in Building C (There were only three buildings then!) on SAS campus and at the Research Triangle Institute. Young faculty had an opportunity to serve on ASA chapters, which I enjoyed very much. Professional service is valued at NCSU.

One of the best calls I ever received was when I was nominated to be the ASA president.

I was also active in the Business and Economic Statistics Section and was elected to be the program chair for JSM 2000. My service to this section led me to be an associate editor for the Journal of Business & Economic Statistics. It has given me a broader view of the excellent research in my areas of interest. You learn more when you teach, and you expand your horizons when you review other people’s work.

A chance meeting with a former ASA president, Fritz Scheuren, led me to be nominated for and appointed as the treasurer for the ASA. It really gave me an insider view of how a 20,000-member “big tent” organization is run, with many volunteers like us and many dedicated people who serve on the ASA Board looking out and advocating for our profession. It also gave me a chance to work with and observe amazing ASA staff who prioritize our success.

Ron Wasserstein, Ingram Olkin, and Sastry Pantula during the 175th anniversary celebration at the 2014 Joint Statistical Meetings in Boston (photo by Eric Sampson/ASA)

One of the best calls I ever received was when I was nominated to be the ASA president. What an honor to have the opportunity to serve the ASA! The second-best call I ever received was from ASA Executive Director Ron Wasserstein congratulating me on becoming the first Asian president of the ASA in more than 100 years! It gave me an opportunity to GIVE (Growth, Impact, Visibility, and Education) to the ASA. It also gave me the opportunity to visit a number of our chapters, represent the ASA globally, and take a group of statisticians to China on a People to People trip. This leadership position certainly enhanced my chances of becoming the first statistician to be the director of the Division of Mathematical Sciences at the National Science Foundation.

Being director was one of the best jobs and gave me a bird’s-eye view of the outstanding research happening in mathematical and statistical sciences. This service to our profession opened the doors for me to be a dean at a couple of colleges, including my current job. I have had the opportunity to serve on several ASA committees and currently serve on the External Nominations and Awards Committee.

Sastry and his adviser and mentor, Iowa State University professor Wayne Fuller, have a family breakfast during JSM 2014, a JSM tradition. (photo by Eric Sampson/ASA)

Serving the ASA, in small steps, one step at a time, made me understand the personal gratification I get from serving others. It helped me decide on and pursue career choices that allow me to help others reach their full potential. It is the number of allies in the ASA who helped me get to where I am and help me continue to grow.The more you serve, the more you thrive; the more you give, the more you get; and the more you engage, the more you excel! Infinite possibilities. I highly recommend serving the ASA and promoting the practice and profession of statistics. It has been great for me, and I know you will reap the benefits, as well.

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