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Benjamin S. Duran, PhD

I was born in 1939 in Tularosa, New Mexico. My people are known as Chicanos, with four hundred years of heritage in New Mexico. My family was poor and extremely hard working, and I was the third oldest of five children.  My siblings and I started working in the cotton fields when we were in grade school, trying to earn money to help our family.  Although we were poor, we were rich in family values; the values I grew up with were those of family, community and helping each other.
When I started elementary school, I knew very little English.  When I was in public school I had the impression that all teachers were white since that was the situation in our school—there were no role models for Chicanos.  However, I was blessed with talent in mathematics and a high school teacher noticed that and pushed me into the more advanced classes in mathematics.
When I graduated from high school I was ready to join the Air Force.  But, a friend of my family came to my graduation and offered to buy my books for the first year if I attended the College of Saint Joseph in Albuquerque.  He took me there during the summer to see the campus and I decided I would take him up on the offer.  This friend taking interest in my education motivated me in ways that are immeasurable.
I was the only one from my family to go to college and my first year of school was very difficult.  I was so homesick I almost quit, but my parents considered education to be very important so they encouraged me to continue and pursue my degree.
When I was an undergraduate in college I supported myself by being a janitor for four years.  I also had to take out loans to help support my education.  Since I had not planned on attending college I did not seek any scholarships as a senior in high school and I did not receive any counseling to that end.
Despite my financial difficulties, I never had any doubt as to what I would study in college: mathematics. During my senior year at the College of Saint Joseph, my mathematics professor suggested that I attend graduate school and study statistics, since he felt that was becoming a very important field of study.  He was right.  I received a Ph.D. in statistics in 1966 from Colorado State University. As a graduate student I had a research assistantship for one year and a training grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) for four years.  In graduate school there are more opportunities for support in the form of research/teaching assistantships, fellowships, grants, etc.
What do statisticians do?  We are involved in the design of studies for producing meaningful data, analyzing data for useful information, and drawing practical conclusions from data.  Statisticians are employed in our government where they are involved in many areas used in forming national policy, such as the census bureau where they design sample surveys.  They are also involved in the pharmaceutical industry where they analyze data to determine which drugs are effective and safe before they are dispensed to the public; in the credit card industry where they determine the credit rating of applicants for credit cards; in industry where they are involved in the quality assurance of products; etc. In short, statisticians are employed in many different types of industry, which affect our daily lives.
As a statistician I was involved in public education for 36 years, directing the research of over 50 master’s/ Ph.D. students in statistics, and collaborating with researchers in several science and engineering disciplines.  I have also worked at the Los Alamos National Laboratory on problems dealing with system reliability, and at the Weapons Laboratory (now Phillips Laboratory) at Kirtland Air Force Base on research related to the development of an outer space discrimination system to defend against a potential nuclear attack, etc.  Prior to my retirement from Texas Tech University in 2002, I was elected a Fellow of the American Statistical Association.  One of my most important objectives is to promote the education of our minority students and to promote their involvement in today’s society.  Also, I advise many minority students on educational opportunities.
If you are the first one from your family to pursue a higher education you will be setting a great example for those who are to follow.  I was the only one from my family to attend a   university but each of my four children has received at least a master’s degree.  So you see, by pursuing a higher education you impact many others.