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From Inspired to Inspiring: Women Take ASA Helm

1 March 2024 No Comment
In honor of Women’s History Month, three former ASA presidents share career highlights, role models, and invaluable advice.

Kathy Ensor, wearing glasses, pearls.

Kathy Ensor, 2022 ASA President

Why did you choose your career?
As an undergraduate and master’s student, I studied math, computer science, probability, and statistics. I loved each of them and did well throughout my studies. However, I found statistics was an excellent combination of all these interests. I found my way to Texas A&M for a PhD in statistics and appreciated every day the great choice I had made. As I learned more about our field, I understood the truly phenomenal contributions we can each make to society through a deep understanding of statistics. I joined the new department of statistics at Rice University immediately upon finishing my PhD. I enjoyed living in Texas and was—and still am—excited by all Rice and Houston have to offer.

Tell us about a woman you looked up to and why.
Thinking back, I appreciate the efforts of 2007 ASA President Mary Ellen Bock, 1996 ASA President Lynne Billard, and Curators Distinguished Professor Nancy Flournoy, who mentored me from afar in those early years as a young professor. I always appreciated Lynne’s approach to statistical problem-solving and read many of her papers in my early career. Also, as a student of Joe Newton and the frequent opportunities to discuss statistics with the late Manny Parzen, I heard much about Grace Wahba and, of course, am in awe of all she has contributed.

I will also say I look up to almost every teacher I had throughout my education, including those phenomenal educators who nurtured my talent and many interests throughout K–12 and beyond.

What advice do you wish someone had given you before you started your career?
I received great advice in those early years, including a comment from my dad: “Take care of business and everything else will work out.” I had no idea at the time what he meant by “everything else,” but alas, now that I know, yes, he was correct. My passion for our field, from the people to the knowledge to the impact, grows every day. Stay curious, stay engaged, and be kind and generous to yourself and others.

    Photo of Sally Morton, short hair.

    Sally C. Morton, 2009 ASA President

    Why did you choose your career?
    An interest in solving applied math problems sparked me initially, and then I became very intrigued by evidence-based decision-making in policy. How can statisticians and statistics contribute to making decisions more data-driven? How do we communicate analyses effectively? As I have segued more recently in my career to leadership positions, I am energized by the fulfillment of supporting others to perform at their best.

    Tell us about a woman you looked up to and why.
    From childhood, my mother. She was my first role model, a constant inspiration, and a trailblazer in medicine. She believed and demonstrated that women can do anything they put their minds to. Also, over the past decade, the early-career generation of women who are taking our discipline forward with respect to impact, methodology, and inclusion. What an important difference they are making. And I have many other heroines such as the other women being interviewed today, Janet Norwood, Katherine Wallman, and others.

    What advice do you wish someone had given you before you started your career?
    Be confident and take chances! You can do this, and the world needs you.

      Photo of Wendy Martinez, short hair, big smile

      Wendy Martinez, 2020 ASA President

      Why did you choose your career?
      I had a lot of different careers in mind growing up—lawyer, archeologist, astronaut, and engineer. I started out taking a lot of classes in history, thinking I wanted to be a historian. However, I decided to pursue engineering, thinking those jobs would be plentiful. I also suspected there were fewer female engineers at the time. I liked that because I wanted to make a difference for women in STEM professions.

      I subsequently completed an undergraduate degree in mathematics and physics and a master’s degree in engineering. Afterward, I got a research job at the Naval Surface Warfare Center in Dahlgren, Virginia, where my colleagues encouraged me to pursue a PhD in computational sciences and informatics (with a concentration in statistics) at George Mason University.

      While it was hard going to school for a PhD with two teenage children and working full time, I found it exciting to apply the concepts I learned in statistics classes to real-world problems. I’ll never forget the time one of the supervised learning models I helped develop actually worked in the field!

      Tell us about a woman you looked up to and why.
      There are several women I look up to. For one, I feel blessed to have the opportunity to work with Donna LaLonde of the ASA on many projects. Her ability to make strategic connections is unparalleled, and I learn something from her every time we meet.

      However, going back to the beginning, I would have to say the woman who motivated my educational goals is my mother. She had four children, each one a little over a year apart, at a time when women were meant to stay in the home. She went to school while still taking care of a household and completed her degree in mathematics, eventually becoming a high-school teacher. So, I guess she taught me to go for my dreams, even though it might be challenging.

      What advice do you wish someone had given you before you started your career?
      I think the advice I want to give my younger self would be the following: “Do not be afraid to try something new. Do not be afraid to pursue your dreams. You probably do not feel prepared or worthy, and you might fail, but you will still learn something along the way. Don’t let fear hold you back.”

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