Decades since graduating from Texas A&M University with doctorates in statistics, former students Ersen Arseven ’74 and Luisa Sia ’74 have never forgotten the unique bond they shared with one of their professors, Dr. Anant Kshirsagar.
The two classmates recently ensured that generations of future Aggie statisticians would remember Kshirsagar and his two lifelong passions, teaching and students, by establishing the Anant M. Kshirsagar Endowed Fellowship in Statistics at Texas A&M in his honor.
Distributions from the endowment, created through the Texas A&M Foundation, will be used to provide one or more fellowships to full-time students pursuing graduate degrees in the Texas A&M Department of Statistics.
Kshirsagar was a member of the Texas A&M Statistics faculty from 1971 to 1977, at which time he met and mentored Arseven and Sia. Despite being an acclaimed statistician with a hectic schedule, they say he always made it a point to honor his open-door office policy, whether to help his students at whatever obscure times they happened to find themselves stumped by an especially troubling statistics problem or merely to sit down and visit with them.
While that policy certainly applied to all of his students, Kshirsagar was especially close to Arseven and Sia, who describe a deep connection atypical of the usual teacher/student relationship. For instance, Arseven says he often playfully teased Kshirsagar, mimicking his fast writing style on the blackboard for laughs. For her part, Sia was his first Ph.D. student at Texas A&M — one he describes as among his “brightest and best” — who wrote an impressive dissertation in the area of design of experiments (DOE), which focuses on design of information-gathering exercises to account for variation.
Although they eventually went their separate ways (Arseven and Sia to their respective careers and Kshirsagar a few years later to the University of Michigan School of Public Health in 1977), the two say Kshirsagar always made it a point to stay in touch with them and keep tabs on their progress. This summer the pair decided to create a named fellowship to recognize Kshirsagar for his devotion and generosity in sharing both his knowledge and friendship with them and to commemorate their combined educational experience in Aggieland.
“It is wonderful to know that there are students who like my teaching and loved me for that and thought of donating money for a good cause,” says Kshirsagar, now a professor emeritus of biostatistics at Michigan.
A fellow of the American Statistical Association and the Institute of Mathematical Statistics as well as a member of the International Statistical Institute, Kshirsagar earned his master’s degree in statistics from Bombay University in India in 1951 and his Ph.D. and D.Sc. From Manchester University in England in 1961 and 1972, respectively. He was an associate professor at Southern Methodist University (1968-1971) prior to being hired at Texas A&M by Dr. H.O. Hartley at the insistence of Dr. William B. Smith, currently a professor emeritus of statistics. Thanks in large part to his friendship with Smith, Kshirsagar continued to serve as a visiting professor in the Department of Statistics during the summers from 1980 to 2002.
Kshirsagar’s mentoring left a lasting impression with Sia, who credits him as an important influence on her career in teaching at Rutgers University and as a senior research statistician for Wyeth Research, one of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the world. To this day, she says, she remains grateful to Kshirsagar for his guiding example to her and countless other students.
“We want Dr. Kshirsagar’s life’s work and achievements in statistics to be recognized and honored,” she says. “We want him to be remembered, not just by his former students, but also by future young budding statisticians who may aspire to achieve as high and as deep as he has.”
Arseven, a member of the Texas A&M College of Science’s 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. His 36-year career as a statistician has included stints with American Cyanamid Corporation (1974-84), 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, Arseven has established three previous endowments at Texas A&M in memory of his late wife, Susan M. Arseven, 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 provides two $1,000 awards for female graduate students pursuing master’s or doctoral degrees in science, engineering or technology.
As a graduate student at Texas A&M, Arseven took several courses from Kshirsagar, who he says initially inspired him to pursue a career in statistics. Like Sia, he recalls some of the attributes that made Kshirsagar such a well-respected figure in statistics highly regarded by both students and peers, such as his unique way of explaining statistics problems and his willingness to take unconventional study breaks with his students, from a quick game of basketball to a trip out for lunch.
“At that time at A&M, graduate students were essentially the same age as professors, so there was a great faculty-student relationship,” he adds. “Outside the classroom, essentially all of your professors were available to you, so there became a sense of camaraderie.
“Dr. Kshirsagar is a very interesting person, extremely captivating and superb in his field, but he has great humility.”
Though gratified to have his name immortalized at Texas A&M through an endowed fellowship conceived by two of his closest students and friends, Kshirsagar is just as proud of their respective successes in statistics. As for his teaching style, he chalks that up to an old Indian adage he learned long ago.
“In our ancient language, Sanskrit, there is a proverb that says a good teacher should desire that his disciples be more successful than himself,” Kshirsagar says. “They were dedicated and capable students, and they became successful statisticians.”
Contact: Chris Jarvis, (979) 845-7246 or [email protected]