Meet the SESUG 2020 Conference Team

We asked our 2020 conference team to share a bit about themselves. Read on and get to know more about some of the people working behind the scenes to make SESUG 2020 a success!

Conference Chairs Spotlight

Lesa Caves - Garner, NC
Operations Chair
I used to teach sailing when I was younger. I spend a significant amount of time using SAS to QC derived, or composite, variables. In doing this, I often find myself needing to learn new ways to do things in SAS. One day, I found myself needing to QC a particularly challenging variable. It took me a bit more time than normal, but once I figured out how to do it, I ran up and down the halls with joy. I was so excited to have figured it out. I love watching TV and movies, going to concerts, and traveling.

Richann Watson - originally from California, grew up in West Texas, and currently in Ohio
Academic Chair
Growing up in West Texas was full of adventure. There were lots of tornadoes. I have never been in a tornado but I have been in 3 earthquakes and never realized they were earthquakes until someone said we had one - the first earthquake was around the time I was born, the second was while I was in the earthquake ride at Universal Studio in California, and the last was in West Texas. I lived in oil country so having an pump jack 'explode' (lack of a better term) was not unheard of and it tended to rattle the walls in the surrounding area so I assumed that is what happened. Nope it was an earthquake. I also took a bath with a scorpion and played with things like tarantulas and horned toads and caught a hog nose snake to nurse it back to health.

Oh... I have so many SAS stories. I was introduced to SAS in college on a VAX...Yes that is a LONG time ago. While in college I signed up for an intern program and was offered two positions, one as a data manager at a medical research lab and the other was with a software development company. I took the data manager not because it was more interesting but because it was across the street from the college. At the research lab, I got a bigger introduction into SAS. Actually I was thrown into the deep-end of the pool not knowing how to swim or with any flotation device. I was literally handed a SAS manual and a VERY complex program and was told "figure it out, you are now responsible for maintaining that program and making updates for each study. Welcome to SAS!"

I love to do crafts. Pretty much any type of craft and I will give a try. I like to sew, embroider, crochet and scrapbook. I used to make jewelry but I needed to relinquish some of my crafts to make room for other hobbies. Summer I like to be outdoors preferably on the water kayaking or boating. Of course spending time with my husband and my psycho but cute puppy, Loki. I am member of the PharmaSUG Executive Committee. I am also a member of the CDISC ADaM team and I co-lead the CDISC ADaM Oncology subteam. I am actively involved with SAS Global Forum and other regional groups.

Section Chairs Spotlight

We'd like to spotlight a few of the team members working to bring you the 2020 SESUG conference. These individuals have volunteered their time to serve as section chairs to coordinate with presenters and ensure the sections run smoothly.

Melvin Alexander - Greensboro, NC
Co-Chair for Statistics and Data Analysis
I enjoy cooking. One of my signature dishes is Bison Stuffed Peppers. I make them with ground bison; mozzarella cheese; blanched red, yellow, and orange bell peppers; an herb mix of thyme, cumin, coriander, oregano, chopped/minced garlic, onions, paprika; egg, red quinoa; and Worcestershire sauce as a marinade. Very delicious!

I was introduced to SAS® in 1976 when I took a Continuing Education course entitled “Computer Software for Statistical Analysis” taught by professors in the Mathematics Department of the University of North Carolina-Greensboro. The software packages included SAS® (from NCSU), SPSS® (University of Chicago now IBM SPSS), MINITAB® (out of Penn State), and BMDP (developed by Wilfrid Dixon of UCLA).

I enrolled in the graduate program at UNC-Chapel Hill’s Biostatistics Department where I honed my SAS statistical and programming skills. After graduation, I used SAS in various roles as a Research Statistician in the Schools of Pharmacy and Medicine at the University of Maryland Medical Center; as a Quality Engineer in the Biotech, Electronics Manufacturing, Airline Radio communications, healthcare quality improvement, education, and computing disk-storage industries. I recently retired from the Social Security Administration (SSA) where I used SAS to develop statistical models that avoided improper payments to beneficiaries of supplemental security income and disability claims and effectively predicted the work-force staffing needs for SSA’s field offices nationwide.

In 1992, I was introduced to JMP®, the Statistical Discovery software developed by SAS’ co-founder John Sall. I used SAS and JMP on projects that helped radiologists, physicians, and medical clinicians develop effective treatment therapies for patients with traumatic, brain, spinal cord, and abdominal injuries. An interesting project I did with my wife was the use of JMP’s Design of Experiments (DOE) platform to settle an argument we had to find the fastest route of getting medication for our sick child. Our paper, Settling Domestic Disputes with Designed Experiments and JMP, was presented at the SUGI 1995 Conference and published in the Advanced Tutorials section.

I am a member of the American Statistical Association (ASA), a Fellow, Past Chair of the Healthcare Division, and Certified Quality Engineer of the American Society for Quality (ASQ), a Section Chair at past SAS Users Group International (SUGIs 12-19, 22) and SESUG (2005, 2010-2019) conferences. I also served as co-chair of the Mid-Atlantic JMP® Users Group (MAJUG). I continue to tutor elementary, middle, and high students in STEM fields and judge at city and state science fairs.

Charlotte Baker - originally from Yazoo City, MS but currently in Blacksburg, VA
Co-Chair for Know Your SAS®: Foundations
I found out the hard way that trains have train washes like cars have car washes. I started using SAS in graduate school. I had to take a class with SAS and SPSS syntax. I was so frustrated!! The red in my log made no sense. Let's not even talk about errors that don't end up in the log. That frustration drove me to get better at it and over the years I did! What started as another requirement has turned into something that has transformed how I think and work.

I have interests in photography, music, trains, cooking, Dungeons & Dragons. I'm involved with Alpha Phi Omega National Service Fraternity as a brother and a chapter advisor; I'm the doorkeeper and standards chair for my chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Incorporated (Tau Mu Omega); and I'm the Secretary for the Injury Control and Emergency Health Services section of the American Public Health Association. I am also a member of the American College of Epidemiology, the American College of Sports Medicine, the Epidemic Intelligence Service Alumni Association, and the American Statistical Association.

Jason Brinkley - Bluefield, WV
Co-Chair for Artificial Intelligence & Machine Learning and Statistics & Data Analysis
When I was teaching at the university a buddy and I had a growing competition to analyze the weirdest datasets using SAS. I am always trying to find the best dataset for teaching. This has led me to analyzing music databases, UFO registries, and others. My favorite was the time I analyzed data that had the physical measurements of Playboy playmates. It made for a spectacular example of multivariate statistics, but not really classroom appropriate. A fun fact about me is that I have been collecting comic books for over 30 years. When I am not doing SESUG, I parent four children and serve as Cubmaster for my boys cub scout pack. I also serve as treasurer for the Healthy Policy Statistics of the American Statistical Association.

Venita DePuy - Raleigh, NC
SESUG Executive Council, Past Operations Chair for the 2015 conference
My first introduction to SAS was a 'survey of statistical software' course in undergrad (U of Alaska Fairbanks) - we learned SAS, SPSS, S-plus, and Minitab. That was in the late 90s... I've definitely focused on SAS since then! It was a given when going to NCSU for grad school.

I lived in Alaska for 9 years before moving to NC; drove from AK to NC when moving here (2001), drove from NC to OR & back this past summer for a socially distanced adventure with 12 year old and to help my mom downsize. I used to work at Duke (DCRI) and went to NCSU, so as hubby says, the only thing they have in common is to boo Carolina. The first time I came to NC was for a sorority conference in January of 2000, and got snowed in for 4 days... I don't think my co-workers back home in Alaska ever did believe I was really snowed in, since it was 70 degrees 2 weeks earlier!

I've had people reach out to me from as far away as France and Singapore to share their appreciation of my SESUG paper (or to offer me work). We have 2 busy boys that keep us on our toes. We love nature walks, and just found our first coral fungus this weekend. I'm the owner and lead biostatistician of Bowden Analytics, a consulting agency based in Raleigh, NC.

Louise Hadden - Massachusetts
Co-Chair for Data Management & Big Data and Planning & Administration
I moved 18 times in my first 20 years – and I wasn’t in a military family! It gave me a life-long love of travel and appreciation of different ways of life. My childhood paved the way for me to leave the United States for my college years in Canada. While at McGill, I played varsity women’s ice hockey (right winger) and the team had to raid a local peewee team’s equipment to outfit me since I was so undersized.

I first used SAS on the Athena computer at MIT. I was a first year law student at BU law school, and my eventual husband was a grad student at MIT, and needed to do some data processing for his thesis. I fell heads over heels at first PROC and I’ve been using SAS for social science research ever since, while raising three children.

I volunteer my time with WGBH (public television station in the Boston area) and the MSPCA Boston Adoption Center (an animal shelter in the Boston area). For WGBH I help with special fundraising events, and for the MSPCA I walk, train, feed, photograph for the website, and snuggle with, dogs in their care – and analyze shelter data – with SAS!

Kristen Harrington - North Carolina
SESUG Executive Council, Past Operations Chair for the 2016 conference
I started using SAS in college, and haven't stopped yet... I have a full house of pets which are well loved. We have 4 cats, 2 dogs (all 6 are rescues), 2 frogs and a dragon (the bearded kind) who share home space with my family and I. I enjoy loud music, good books, gardening, and painting in my spare time.

Geeta Kersellius - New Jersey
Conference Support Team
I received the Rotarian of the Year award (2014-2015) from the Towson Rotary Club. This award is given to individuals that have made significant contributions to the mission and operation of their club, and to one or more avenues of Community or International Service. I earned a dual Masters degree (MPH/MBS) from Rutgers University. During my MPH program, I took a biocomputing course where I was first introduced to SAS.

Upon graduating, I was able to utilize the SAS skills that I learned in grad school in a data analyst position with the U.S. Air Force School of Aerospace Medicine and subsequently in my current role as a Senior Data Analyst with the World Trade Center Health Program General Responder Data Center at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

My favorite activity to do when I have spare time is yoga. I am also volunteering as a wish granter for Make-A-Wish® Ohio, Kentucky & Indiana and with the American Cancer Society's Road to Recovery Mission as a volunteer coordinator. The Road To Recovery program provides transportation to and from treatment for individuals diagnosed with cancer that need a ride to treatment but are unable to drive themselves.

Chuck Kincaid - Battle Creek, MI
Co-Chair for Analytics Leadership and Open Analytics
I started using SAS in school. I was a CS major and needed another math class. I didn't want the heavy math, so I took Statistics. It was so much more fun than programming, and using SAS was so much easier and much more powerful than programming from scratch. I have been a statistician/SAS user ever since. I enjoy family, puzzles, board games, softball, movies and the like. I do a lot of running, but I don't really enjoy it!

Andrea Lewton - Raleigh, NC
Co-Chair for Hands-on Workshops
I was born and raised in Uruguay, and moved to the States at the age of 16. When I began college, I thought I wanted to be a therapist, but then switched to organizational management. Working in higher education, analyzing student and personnel data—¬fits my interests and skills. In addition to digging into data and making it presentable for others to use, I enjoy reading, traveling, and spending time outdoors with my family. SAS has given me the chance to explore and display data in a more efficient way, whether it is through Base SAS, SAS Studio, SAS EG, SAS VA, and/or SAS DI. There is always something new to learn!

Barbara Okerson - originally from Aurora,IA but currently in Manteo, NC
Co-Chair for Reporting and Visualization
One of my goals is to visit all 50 states - 44 down and 6 to go! I enjoyed time as a SAS beta tester at the University of Memphis, where I tested products that made it onto the market as well as some that did not. SAS Lookup anyone?

I love history and spend time every year touring historic sites especially as relates to Colonial America. I am a member and volunteer for the Roanoke Island Historical Association. Primarily this group keeps the memory alive of the "lost colony" of 1587, the first European settlement on Roanoke Island - where I live.

Darryl Putnam - originally from San Diego, CA
Co-Chair for Artificial Intelligence/Machine Learning and Hands-on Workshops
On my first job, my boss came into my office and said "I want a report that looks like this... and I need it in 2 weeks and I'm going on vacation starting tomorrow and do it in SAS." I said "I don't know SAS," then he hands me the version 5 manual and says, "you're smart figure it out!" I have a Masters of Science of Bourbonology at Maker's Mark Stillhouse University. I am a BBQ and grilling fanatic. I also serve on the board of the Charlotte, NC Y-Guides and I'm heavily involved at my church.

Merry Rabb - originally from Maryland but currently in Durham, NC
Co-Chair for Analytics Leadership and Open Analytics
The most interesting and exciting SAS project I worked on was back in the 1980s - a revision of all the data management and calculations involved in producing the Consumer Price Index (CPI). Needless to say, the project took several years and involved a lot of very bright and fun people, many of whom I am still in touch with today. In my free time I like to read novels, hike and ride bicycles. I love to travel, especially to Spain and Scotland, and I love college basketball! On the professional side, I am currently involved with the Research Triangle SAS Users Group (RT-SUG) and Toastmasters.

Ethan Ritchie - originally from Concord, NC but currently in Franklin, TN
Co-Chair for Know Your SAS®: Foundations
My family has been heavily involved in the Grandfather Mountain Highland Games since they began in the 1950s. I spend a weekend in July every year in the North Carolina mountains working with a great group of people to make the heavy athletics and kilted children's races possible. I enjoy working with my extended family in a tradition that has lasted three (and soon to be four) generations. As a statistics major at N.C. State, I was exposed to SAS in many different classes, but never more than using code that was already written and data that were already cleaned. That changed my senior year when I took a class devoted to learning the basics of SAS programming. I enjoyed the challenge of cleaning and transforming data, and I learned enough to earn my Base SAS Certification after completing the class.

Shane Rosanbalm - Chapel Hill, NC
Co-Chair for E-Posters
I am Kristen Harrington's favorite Rho employee. I once wrote a macro to generate concise graphical and tabular summaries of datasets using GTL, ODS LAYOUT, and ODSTEXT. You can check out the 2018 PharmaSUG paper here and there is a supprting GitHub here. I enjoy rock climbing and I am invloved with the American Alpine Club where I am a volunteer instructor for free clinics designed to help indoor climbers transition to outdoor climbing.

Deanna (DeDe) Schreiber-Gregory - originally from Montana but currently in Maryland
Co-Chair for Education/Institutional Research, Government and Healthcare/Pharmaceuticals
I love music. “Almost” all music, really. It plays such an important role in my life. I learned how to read music through an early introduction to the clarinet and have continued that growth with my dedication to learning the violin. I will even make up songs while I walk around my house and will sing or play them as I go. I am very appreciative of my family’s tolerance of this odd quirk!

Recently the military base I work on banned headphones for drivers and pedestrians while they navigate base. This was very difficult for me as I rely so heavily on music to help calm and untangle my thoughts. My husband’s solution to this? Bone conducting headphones! These headphones do not go in my ears, but instead, transmit music through my cheekbones. Thus, my hearing is not obstructed but I am still able to take advantage of my long walk to gather my thoughts and prepare or decompress from my day to the complimentary and soothing rhythm of my music.

I started out as a Psychology major. During my third year as an undergraduate, I was hired on as a research assistant for my advisor in her cognitive psychology lab. Through this and progressively more complicated psychological research experience, I quickly grew to love statistics. By the end of that year, I decided to declare it as a second major. My first introduction to SAS was as a fourth-year undergraduate psychology student - still new to my statistics degree curriculum and working on a large-scale meta-analysis project spanning years of data. I had never programmed before seeing my first SAS procedure. I broke down in tears, terrified at what I had gotten myself into. I toughed it out (with help from a statistics professor), finished my psychology honors thesis with top grades and went on later to use SAS in my statistics thesis for good measure. About a year later, in 2011, that same statistics professor encouraged us to submit our work for presentation at MWSUG, sweetening the deal with a promise of extra credit if we did. I hopped on that opportunity and submitted both my psychology thesis as well as my statistics thesis that night. A couple of months later, I received an email…they accepted both of my papers and awarded me a FULL student scholarship to attend! I have been hooked ever since!

In January, I gave birth to my first child. His name is Anzel, and I love spending time with him and my husband (Phil)! My husband and I are co-owners of our consulting business. My husband consults for photography, videography, graphic design, and classical art. I consult for statistics and data management. Our business is called Juxdapoze, LLC. I encourage you to think about that for a bit. I am President of my local SAS users group back home in the upper MidWest, the Red River Valley SAS Users Group (RRVSUG). We are a small group, but are filled with enthusiastic and driven SAS programmers. I am the Vice President of Peace-Work, a volunteer cooperative of statisticians, data scientists and researchers applying analytics to issue-driven advocacy. I am an active volunteer with the American Red Cross, the VA Hospital, several regional and local SAS Users groups, and a volunteer-in-training with Crisis Text Line. As a published statistician, I am an editor and/or reviewer for several journals across the statistics, psychology, and medicine disciplines.

Kelly Smith - originally from East Tennessee but currently in Charlotte, NC
Co-Chair for Reporting and Visualization
SAS and Institutional Research is actually my third career. I started as a forensic DNA analyst, shifted teaching high school science, and now work full-time in IR while still teaching General Chemistry as an adjunct for fun. I have been programming in SAS for about 5 years now at Central Piedmont Community College. Over the last year, I have broken down and rebuilt the code we use to build and track student momentum metrics, and I'm excited that we are now using that data for a new machine learning project at the college.

I love music and grew up singing in classical and contemporary church choirs. I stepped away from music for the past few years due to other commitments, but am looking forward to getting involved again this fall. I joined the Association of Talent Development to meet other people involved in education and training. I bring tips and techniques from ATD meetings into my classroom to help my students get a firmer grasp on chemistry concepts. I used information from ATD and from graduate work in adult education for two presentations on professional development (SAS Global 2019, SESUG 2019). I'm also working with development professionals at Central Piedmont to help faculty and staff become comfortable with data-based decision making processes.

Rachel Straney - originally from Connecticut but currently in Orlando, FL
Co-Chair for Education/Institutional Research, Government and Healthcare/Pharmaceuticals
I moved quite a bit when I was younger. I've lived near Hartford, Philadelphia, Richmond, West Palm Beach and then finally moved to Orlando in 2000 (where I now call home). I moved so much that I had 2 second grade teachers in 2 different states and 3 third grade teachers in 2 different states. As stressful as it can be, I think all the moving around helped me be more adaptable.

I have been programming in SAS for over 15 years. Since I started working at the University of Central Florida, I have been responsible for designing, developing and maintaining SAS programs that run on a SAS/IntrNet server to share dynamic web reports from university-wide surveys. Although SAS/IntrNet is a powerful platform, I don't often find professionals in my field using it. By getting more involved with SESUG, I've connect with several individuals who do... and it is always a great opportunity to troubleshoot issues and share best practices. I love SAS/IntrNet!

Since I work in an assessment office in higher education, I regularly attend and present at conferences like the Association for Institutional Research (AIR). Many higher education institutions use SAS and I often get to connect with the same colleagues at both forums. "Spare time" is a foreign concept these days, since I am working toward a PhD in Modeling and Simulation outside of my 40-hour work week. But when I do have the opportunity for a breather, friends and family are a big part of it!

Linda Sullivan - originally from Bremerton, Washington but currently in Orlando, FL
Co-Chair for Data Management & Big Data and Planning & Administration
I enjoy running half marathons and I have completed 6 with the most recent being the Biltmore Half in February 2019 where the temperature was 20 degrees!! My introduction to SAS was with SAS/IntrNet, which was the first information self-service platform for our campus, followed by the migration from SAS/IntrNet to SAS BI and the expansion of data and custom reports, most of which are still being used today complementing what we're delivering with SA VA. In my spare time I enjoy quilting and gardening, and spending time with my son and daughter and 5 grandkids!

Abbas Tavakoli - originally from Iran but currently in Columbia, SC
Co-Chair for E-Posters
I love sports, especially soccer. I started to play soccer when I was five years old. I was member of soccer team in my undergraduate program in Iran. I now coach my 13 years old soccer team at YMCA. In addition, I like to read books (novel and politics) when I have free time. I usually read five days for 45 minutes. I also love to talk politics!

I first learned SAS in a bio-statistics course - it was SAS programming on an old IBM machine. It was a new experience to use statistical procedure and get the results. I have worked on many NIH research projects (Ro1) and different types of grants and it is hard to pick one project as a favorite. Each one was special in one aspect or another. I like to do volunteer work at the University and within my community. I am involved in several committee and organizations at University of South Carolina and Columbia City, such as adviser to Iranian Student Association and the YMCA.

Brian Varney - Kalamazoo, MI
Co-Chair for Know Your SAS®: Advanced Techniques
I love Rugby. I used to play and I've helped start a high school club in my hometown. I started using SAS in 1990 and have not stopped since. My favorite project is learning and applying SAS Viya. Outside SESUG, I am involved with Foreign Links Around the Globe (on the board) and the Portage Muskies High School Rugby (coach). In my spare time I also enjoy camping, reading, soccer.

Nat Wooding - Midlothian, VA
Co-Chair for Know Your SAS®: Advanced Techniques
I am a retired biologist who now counts students (working in higher education administration at a community college). One of my memorable SAS projects was when a group that I was supporting needed a few values from each of a couple thousand daily operating logs stored as PDFs. I used SAS to make calls to GhostScript, which converted the PDF to a TXT file and then I could easily parse the information with a datastep. The client was rather pleased at not having to pay a contractor thousands to manually extract the numbers. In my spare time I enjoy transcription of historical documents and getting out in nature.