The 2021 Biostatistics Graduation Celebration, held June 13, honored graduates for their grit and determination in completing a degree under unusually difficult circumstances.
Timothy Thornton, the department’s associate chair of education and graduate program director, told graduates, “Your ability to navigate your graduate studies and complete all of your degree requirements in such challenging times is a testament to your dedication and perseverance. We are so proud of your achievements.”
Department Chair Lurdes Inoue agreed. “In unprecedented times, you’ve adapted, you’ve put in some hard work and you have learned that a pandemic could not stop you from achieving your goals,” said Inoue.
“This graduating class has seen the impact of a pandemic that challenged us all but they also have seen the positive impact of our field through the ongoing leadership work of our many faculty involved in COVID-19 vaccine efforts. Students understood that this was an opportunity for them to contribute by using their modeling skills to help inform policies, their communication skills to explain complex issues in everyday language, and through other impactful work.”
This year’s celebration marked an historical milestone as the department recognized its first graduates from the Master of Science Capstone program.
“I couldn’t have asked for a more talented, motivated, and collegial group of students to be our first graduating class,” said associate professor of biostatistics and MS Capstone advisor Adam Szpiro.
Earlier in the day, Biostatistics graduate Jeffrey Leek (MS ’05, PhD ’07), now a professor of biostatistics and oncology at Johns Hopkins University, spoke at the School of Public Health graduation ceremony where he challenged students to think beyond their respective disciplines.
“Your training has prepared you to tackle the most important challenges facing our society today, whether that’s climate change, global inequality, or generating the new genomic technologies that will produce the next generation of vaccines,” said Leek.
“I encourage you to use that training but to think broadly about what you can do and what you care about and not be confined by your label. Since leaving UW, I have been a biostatistician, sure, but I’ve also been a stem cell biologist, a computational oncologist, a Coursera professor, a start-up founder, and most recently, the director of a community-based organization that does data science training for economic empowerment in Baltimore. I hope that you will take advantage of the incredible training you’ve developed and use it to do the things that matter the most to you.”
During the celebration, several students were recognized for excellence in scholarship, leadership, and communication.
PhD graduate Aaron Hudson received the Thomas R. Fleming Excellence in Biostatistics Award, the department’s most prestigious student honor that includes a $2,000 stipend.
“Aaron has done ground-breaking research as recognized by numerous awards, including the prestigious David P. Byar early career award from the Biometrics section of the ASA. He’s also been a model citizen in our department, leading and contributing to many efforts. I’m really proud of what he has accomplished and look forward to seeing his future contributions to our field,” said Ali Shojaie, professor of biostatistics and Hudson’s advisor.
Hudson’s dissertation was described as “outstanding work, impressively innovative, incredibly clever, and stunningly powerful.” He was recognized as a gifted communicator with a deep commitment to teaching and who has provided exceptional outreach and service for the department.
Hudson credits his success to the graduate program culture.
“I found the faculty and staff from the department to be incredibly supportive. Graduate school is challenging for every student, and for me, that was no exception. Whenever something didn’t go the way I wanted or I didn’t get the outcome I expected, I was met with support and patience and encouragement. I needed to be in this kind of environment to be able to work at my potential, and I’m grateful that I was fortunate enough to be in a department that tried really hard to cultivate this sort of environment.”
To his fellow students, Hudson said, “It’s been a fun time going on this journey with all of you. My hope is that in the future we’re going to be able to apply what we’ve learned to make the world a much better, more diverse, more inclusive, and more equitable place in the broadest sense. I feel strongly that it is our responsibility to do so, and I know that we can do it because we have demonstrated that we’re all very smart and we’re all very, very tough.”
Senior Student Awards, which include a $500 stipend, were presented to Yichen Lu (MS Capstone) and Ningxin Ma (MS Thesis). Kendrick (PhD) and Wenbo Zhang (MS) were recognized as recipients of 2021 UW School of Public Health Outstanding Student Awards in Biostatistics, honors that were announced June 2.
— Deb Nelson, UW Biostatistics