Honorary Member 2024

Sylvia R. Esterby
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.

Sylvia Esterby is an Emeritus Associate Professor of Statistics at UBC Okanagan. Her path to becoming an applied statistician interested in applications in the natural sciences began in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan where she was born and raised. She developed a keen interest in science during her high school years before entering the Chemical Technology program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton. She completed a BA in Chemistry at Queen’s University in 1968, at the same time gaining valuable experiences in an Agriculture Canada analytical chemistry laboratory and Queen’s nuclear resonance and fungal physiology laboratories. Initially interested in graduate work in chemistry, she eventually earned a PhD in Statistics in 1976, because her chosen thesis advisor (W.F. Forbes) transferred from the Department of Chemistry to the Faculty of Mathematics at the University of Waterloo.

Her subsequent career can be divided into two phases, the first as a professional re- search scientist and the second as an academic. For twenty years, Sylvia worked at the National Water Research Institute as a research scientist. During this period, she made many contributions to the theory and application of time series, particularly in relation to the changepoint problem. Her main application area was in quality and toxicity assessment of freshwater in the Great Lakes and other lakes in Ontario. She was also instrumental in the formation of The International Environmetrics Society and its journal Environmetrics. These enterprises are international in scope, but they have a particularly Canadian genesis. Sylvia served as an Associate Editor for Environmetrics for six years. Sylvia published over 20 peer-reviewed journal articles during this period, all in very high quality journals - con- tributing pioneering work in the fields of hydrology, ecology and also in statistics. Sylvia was one of the first women to advocate for the importance of good data and appropriate site selection for government and other research in the areas of flooding, irrigation, farming and acid precipitation. Sylvia made other substantial contributions to the Canadian statistical community through her service to NSERC and the Statistical Society of Canada.

The other half of Sylvia’s career was spent here in BC’s Okanagan region where she joined a university college which subsequently became a campus of UBC. She was appointed the first Head of the Department of Mathematics, Statistics and Physics, where she played a decisive role in determining future directions. She was awarded a Canadian Foundation for Innovation grant during this period which helped establish Environmetrics as a research theme on the campus here. It also paved the way for academics who joined the campus later to seek infrastructure and industrial partnership funding, not only in statistics but in mathematics, physics and later, computer science. Her work on the graduate program in mathematics was a crucial step in the formation of a pathway for students to do graduate work in statistics at both the MSc and PhD levels here. The program is still small, but it is of high quality, and over the years, several Masters students have graduated and are making worthwhile statistical contributions in government and industry. Sylvia supervised some of these graduate students, including one who is herself now a professor of statistics at Okanagan College.  During her time at UBCO, Sylvia developed and taught courses, including a senior course in Environmetrics. Simultaneously, she made substantial service contributions as Head of a complex department, running multiple academic programs.

Sylvia has been honoured by her peers on several occasions in the past. She is a Fellow of the Modelling and Simulation Society of Australia and New Zealand. She is an Elected Member of the ISI, and she is a Fellow of the ASA. She received the Outstanding Service Award from The International Environmetrics Society in 2013 and the Distinguished Achievement Award of the ASA Section on Statistics and the Environment.

The citation for the award reads: 

"To Sylvia R Esterby, in recognition of her exceptional contributions to the field of Environmetrics in Canada and internationally; for her pioneering leadership in the academy; for her excellence in training and mentoring; and for her dedicated service to the profession."