Ersen Arseven's eyes twinkle as he reminisces about his late wife, Susan, and how he once tried to persuade her to take on one of his programming assignments during their graduate school days at Texas A&M University—his in the Department of Statistics and hers in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering.
"She told me in no uncertain terms that she wouldn't do it for me, but that she would be happy to teach me how to do it for myself," he said.
Ersen managed to complete the project and, within a year of each other, the young Aggie couple did the same for all coursework related to their respective doctorates in statistics (1974) and computer science (1975). After leaving Aggieland, they embarked on pioneering careers in biostatistics and information technology strategy and a 25-year life together in Nyack, New York, that was cut short by Susan's untimely death in 2000 from breast cancer at the age of 59.
Ersen recently commemorated the 15-year anniversary of Susan's passing by establishing his most recent memorial endowment at Texas A&M in her honor, the Susan M. Arseven '75 Chair in Data Science and Computational Statistics. The chair, created through the Texas A&M Foundation, is intended to support the teaching, research, service and professional development activities of statistics faculty who are successful in both publishing and attracting funding in the areas of integrating statistical and computational methods for application in diverse areas of science, technology and engineering. Ideal fields of impact range from machine learning to uncertainty analysis of computer-model outputs to modeling of spatio-temporal environmental data.
"I hope the Susan M. Arseven '75 Chair in Data Science and Computational Statistics will stimulate and enable closer collaboration between statisticians, scientists, engineers and technologists at Texas A&M in teaching courses, doing research and publishing their work together," Ersen said.
The Arseven Chair marks the third in the history of the Texas A&M Department of Statistics, which also features the George P. Mitchell '40 Chair in Statistics, held since 2006 by Texas A&M statistician and Dean of Science H. Joseph Newton, and the Jill and Stuart A. Harlin '83 Chair in Statistics, held since 2013 by Distinguished Professor of Statistics Raymond J. Carroll.
"It is a great honor for the Department of Statistics to receive the Arseven Chair, which will have an enormous impact on our statistical research and graduate training," said Valen E. Johnson, professor and head of Texas A&M Statistics. "This gift will assist in the recruitment, retention and professional development of faculty working on the frontiers of statistics, computer science and data science. At the same time, it will provide critical resources for graduate training and play an important role in facilitating the interaction of Texas A&M faculty and graduate students with researchers from other universities. The resources associated with this gift will undoubtedly result in advances in statistical machine learning, spatio-temporal modeling, and uncertainty quantification."
Susan earned her bachelor's of science degree in physics from the University of Minnesota in 1963 and her master's in science degree in library sciences from Columbia University before taking a job with IBM, where she worked on pioneering library automation systems. She led the University of Pennsylvania team that established the first automated circulation control and catalog system in a major university library. After obtaining her doctorate at Texas A&M, Susan joined American Cyanamid in 1975 as a systems analyst within the Medical Research Division, advancing steadily to achieve the post of chief information officer in 1991, a position held until 1995 when she became the senior vice president and chief information officer of Union Camp Corporation, a position she held until 1999. During her career, Susan served on the advisory board of the School of Computer Science at Pace University and also was active in community organizations and local government.
Ersen, a 2007 inductee into the College of Science Academy of Distinguished Former Students, has served since 2005 as an independent consultant to biotech and biopharmaceutical businesses through the company he founded in 1992, Arseven Consulting Inc. Among other accomplishments, he was part of a team that established the anti-cancer activity of the compound Mitoxantrone, which was used for treatment of various types of leukemia and is still used for the treatment of metastatic prostate cancer. His 41-year career as a statistician has included stints with American Cyanamid Corporation (1974-84)—where Susan also served as vice president for information technology—Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals (1984-92) and Schering-Plough Research Institute (2002-05). In 2003 he received the H.O. Hartley Award, given annually to a former student of the Texas A&M Department of Statistics in recognition of distinguished service to the discipline of statistics.
A generous supporter of his department, college and university, Ersen has established three previous endowments at Texas A&M in Susan's memory, one of which honors her as namesake of the Susan M. Arseven '75 Conference for Women In Science & Engineering, hosted annually by the College of Science and featuring the presentation of two $1,000 Susan M. Arseven '75 Make-A-Difference Memorial Awards recognizing deserving female graduate students pursuing master's or doctoral degrees in science, engineering or technology. Together with one of his classmates, Luisa Sia '74, he also established the Anant M. Kshirsagar Endowed Fellowship in Statistics in tribute to one of their favorite Texas A&M professors.
This article was originally published by College of Science.
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