NISS - 2015 in Review

Happy New Year

The following was written by NISS director Nell Sedransk as she reflects on the accomplishments of 2015 and looks forward to 2016.

The year 2015 has been a very exciting time for NISS: for NISS - celebrating the 25th Anniversary, and for me personally - taking over as the third NISS Director, following two dedicated, highly respected previous Directors.

2015 has seen some really great new initiatives take off, and brought new people to NISS while also having to say goodbye to some wonderful employees. Accomplishments in 2015 NISS include reaching out to young people, actively engaging the Board of Trustees, and expanding activities with government agencies.

The highlight of 2015 was unquestionably the 25th Anniversary.  At JSM a wonderful celebration of NISS’ 25th Anniversary also honored Ingram Olkin for his contribution starting long before NISS or any statistical institute existed and continuing now into the second quarter century. The founding of NISS is truly a tribute to a group of determined statisticians who foresaw Statistics at the hub of interdisciplinary science. The rather extraordinary history is recounted as oral history taken from personal interviews, published in Statistics and Public Policy for 2016.

In 2015, we wished good fortune to Saki Kinney, who started at NISS as a postdoctoral fellow in 2008, was promoted to senior postdoc and then to research fellow. She is taking another step on her career ladder in her new position at RTI International. The biggest change for NISS will come as Martha Williamson, who has been with NISS for over 23 years, retires the end of 2015.  For everyone who has walked through the door at NISS since the very beginning, Martha has been a welcoming and familiar face.  We will miss Martha, but she will finally have time for things she has been wanting to do but has not been able to put aside NISS responsibilities to actually do.

Once again the new postdoctoral fellows joining NISS in 2015 are an exceptional group.  Mauricio Sadinle and Maria DeYoreo are under Jerry Reiter’s supervision in the Triangle area; Ya Mo is working on my direction on National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) research. Luca Sartore and Andreea Erciulescu are posted to the National Agricultural Statistical Service (NASS) in Washington DC along with Yijun (Frank) Wei who is simultaneously working on his PhD at George Mason University. 

NISS is also connecting to early career statisticians at the Affiliates with the appointment of junior liaisons.  Junior liaisons are now represented on NISS Board committees (such as the Affiliates Committee, the Media and Marketing Committee) to involve them with developing conference programs, innovating communications with the next step of engaging a group of early career statisticians in NISS planning.

This past year, NISS initiated a substantial new program with NASS, which includes the three postdocs and also includes mentoring by senior researchers. Programs with other federal agencies continue as well. 

One role for NISS in respect to the government sector is as a neutral expert, often as a third party to convene technical expertise. During 2015 NISS has worked to convene four task forces.  Two task forces for the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) addressed gainful employment information standards; these standards are applied to an employment and earnings developed by NCES with input from another NISS panel.  The survey will be used by for-profit post-secondary education programs wanting to challenge the earnings data from the Social Security Agency on their graduates.  A third panel for NCES was charged with the overall review of the Center which runs upward of 60 programs including NAEP. NCES is a national resource for data that chronicles the progress of American education. Thus the goal is for this panel with wide-ranging expertise to consider directions in which education is going, the directions in which technology and assessment are going so that the Center can take a forward looking view to 2020 and 2026.

A panel for NASS on the US Census of Agriculture statistics on women and beginning farmers examined the data requirements to accurately reflect the roles women and beginning farmers play and to recommend changes to the Census of Agriculture questionnaire to capture these data.  The result following discussions and working with NASS staff has led to a revised section on description of farm operators that is being included in the 2017 Census.

The contributions of the members of the Board of Trustees have been invaluable. As members of Board committees, they are working to expand the scope of the highly active Affiliates Program, to extend the media outlets and provide more communications and outreach to the statistical community, to create a new NISS award to recognize our amazing former postdocs.  One evidence of the excellence of Board members’ and committees’ contributions is the new NISS website; less visible is the updating of NISS infrastructure from computer equipment to security system to email system and telephone. THANK YOU to the NISS Board and to the members of the NISS Corporation who have shared in these developments.   

NISS also provided leadership (Directorate Liaison) for the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute (SAMSI) 2015-2016 Program: "Statistics and Applied Mathematics of Forensic Science." The program involves not only statisticians and applied mathematicians but also crime lab directors, researchers and practitioners in forensics and provides a venue for their active collaboration.  Looking toward 2016, NISS is making connections with academic faculty, researchers and practitioners in forensics to work to establish a base from which early career statisticians can enter the forensics world.

We are very excited about what the future holds for our organization. And, we wish all of you the very best in 2016!

Wednesday, December 30, 2015 by Jamie Nunnelly