Honorary Member 2023

Nancy Heckman
Honorary Member

Honorary Membership in the SSC is awarded to statistical scientists, or in special circumstances other individuals, of outstanding distinction who have made exceptional contributions to the development of the statistical sciences. The recipient should be someone whose work for which the Honorary Membership is awarded was substantially done in Canada or has had a major impact in Canada. The recipient need not be a member of the SSC.

Nancy E. Heckman, Professor Emeritus of Statistics at the University of British Columbia (UBC), has been named an Honorary Member of the Statistical Society of Canada. This award is intended to honor an individual who has made exceptional contributions to the development of the statistical sciences in Canada and whose work has had a major impact in this country.

Nancy Heckman completed her Ph.D. at the University of Michigan in 1982.  Shortly after, she joined the University of British Columbia as an Assistant Professor, and rose through the ranks.   As of 2022, Nancy is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Statistics.

Nancy’s research interests include functional data analysis, nonparametric regression via splines, kernels and local polynomials, and shapes of regression functions. She has used functional data analysis techniques in many application areas. She has worked with evolutionary biologists on a range of projects, developing and applying statistical methods to study the evolution of physical traits that are functions. Nancy has several co-authored papers on developing functional data analysis techniques for the analysis of energy consumption, where each curve gives energy consumed as a function of time.  Recently, she has become involved with collaborative research on animal movement, using hidden Markov models.

Nancy has mentored many graduate students and postdoctoral fellows over the course of her career, and she has held numerous editorial roles.  She is a Fellow of the American Statistical Association, a Fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and an Ordinary Member of the International Statistical Institute.  Of note, Nancy is the only three-time recipient of the Canadian Journal of Statistics Award for the best paper of the year (for the years 1997, 2000, and 2022).

As an educator, Nancy has made many contributions beyond her own classroom. After serving on a UBC-wide committee considering the proliferation of statistics instruction across the campus, Nancy founded a network of instructors to share best practices around statistics instruction across the campus.  In 2014 Nancy elevated this initiative by founding, and acquiring funding for, the Flexible Learning Introductory Statistics (FLIS) project.  This project team develops and vets learning resources, and more generally facilitates discussions about evidence-based teaching practices.  FLIS has become a campus hub for faculty and graduate students interested in statistics and data science education.  The site statspace.elearning.ubc.ca curates resources that FLIS has developed or vetted, for the benefit of the wider statistics education community. 
Canada needs strong academic units in order for the statistics community to flourish.  In this regard, Nancy provided stalwart community building as a two-term Head of the UBC Statistics, from 2008 to 2018.   These were pivotal years of growth and development for the department, with Nancy presiding over a plethora of initiatives.  Of note, two juggernauts were launched over this period: The Master of Data Science program (a professional program run cooperatively by Statistics and Computer Science), and Data Science 100 (a course now serving about 2000 students per year from across the campus).  With Nancy at the helm Statistics grew rapidly, but in a way that retained the unit’s collegiality.  Equally, Nancy was collegial with other units on campus, but also firm when necessary. Between her work as Head and her leadership of FLIS, Nancy positioned Statistics as the clear campus home for the discipline of statistics, and the equal partner (with Computer Science) in data science education.

At UBC, Nancy has always advocated for equity, diversity, and inclusion, working to make an environment where all feel supported.  Of particular note, she has long advocated for equitable parental leave for all families, no matter how they are formed.  Her advocacy began on a personal note, with her adoption of her daughter and has continued, in partnership with other types of families. While the inequities still exist, the needle has moved and Nancy continues to advocate.  

Beyond UBC, Nancy has made many contributions to the statistics community.   In addition to her aforementioned editorial roles, she has served on many committees of learned societies, particularly for the SSC.  She has been a member of the Program Committee on multiple occasions, including as Program Chair for the 1996 meeting in Waterloo, and as a very involved member of the Local Organizing Committee for the Vancouver meeting in 2009.  Upon completing her department headship, Nancy served as the Associate Scientific Director of the Canadian Statistical Sciences Institute (CANSSI) from 2019-2020, contributing to the evolution of the institute’s programs at a very formative time.

Paul Gustafson was primarily responsible for producing this material.

The citation for the award reads: 

"To Nancy Heckman, in recognition of her extraordinary range and depth of contributions to statistical science in Canada, as a researcher, a mentor, an educator, and a community-builder."