By Jill Pease
When Samuel Wu, Ph.D., arrived at the University of Florida in 1998 as a junior faculty member, Mark Yang, Ph.D., a professor in the department of statistics, immediately took him under his wing. Their collaboration led to Wu’s first published research article, co-authored with Yang.
Over the years, they worked together on 11 more research articles and Wu developed a deep appreciation for Yang’s approach to mentoring.
“He was a tremendous help to my career,” said Wu, now a professor in the department of biostatistics in the College of Public Health and Health Professions and the College of Medicine. “People remember Mark Yang for his wisdom, his enthusiasm about science and creative writing, his love of life, his quick wit and his magic tricks. More importantly, he was beloved advisor and mentor who was encouraging and extremely kind to his students and junior faculty.”
Yang emigrated from Taiwan to the U.S. in the 1960s and earned master’s and doctoral degrees from the University of Wisconsin. He joined the UF statistics faculty in 1970 and was later awarded the distinction of Fellow of the American Statistical Association, one of the field’s highest honors. He made significant contributions to statistical genetics, software testing and reliability, dental material design and testing. He was especially proud of his work on the distribution of the inter-record times in an increasing population and the discovery of Chebyshev inequality with estimated mean and variance, the latter a joint paper with his colleague John G. Saw, Ph.D., and his close friend Tse Chin Mo, Ph.D.
When Yang passed away in 2010, he left behind a close-knit family, a wide network of colleagues and dozens of former students and junior faculty members who had benefited from his mentoring. He was as well known for his many contributions to biostatistics as he was for his sense of humor and the skits he performed at department parties.
To honor him, Yang’s former mentees and his family have made generous gifts to create the Mark C.K. Yang Memorial Fund. The fund will support an annual award to recognize outstanding mentoring by a faculty member in the department of biostatistics or the department of statistics in the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.
“I’ve had many mentors throughout my Ph.D. study, graduate research work and career, and I must say that Dr. Yang was the best mentor that I could ever have,” said Deng-Shan Shiau, Ph.D., a graduate of UF’s statistics doctoral program and an associate professor at the Chi Institute of Traditional Chinese Veterinary Medicine. “As an international student I had difficulties in many aspects when I first arrived in the U.S. He always tried to help me as best as he could. As a mentor, he set such a great example — hardworking, kind, humble and with great integrity in everything he did. That’s how Dr. Yang won respect from everyone who knew him.”
Chi-Hse Teng, Ph.D., who earned master’s and doctoral degrees in statistics from UF, remembers a conversation with a colleague about Yang.
“Once I chatted with an IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers) Fellow and he said, ‘Your advisor is a very humble person. If he was willing to brag just a little bit, he would have been much more famous.’”
Teng, now the director of Discovery Statistics at Novartis, was influenced by Yang’s courage to work on new research areas, and, he says it has helped him advance in his own career.
“I decided to make a gift to the Mark Yang fund because for one, I miss him,” Teng said. “Secondly, I believe we should inspire more people by his example so we can have more great mentors, just like Dr. Yang helped us to find our own path.”
To support the Mark C.K. Yang Memorial Fund, visit https://bit.ly/2wCR36z, or contact Sam Wagner, PHHP’s associate director of development and alumni affairs, at 352-273-6540 or firstname.lastname@example.org.