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From the Spring 2018 Edition of Discovery

Smooth Sailing

Aggie telemark enthusiast, University of Geneva faculty member Sylvain Sardy recalls USU experiences

Dr. Sylvain Sardy MS'91 Mathematics, MS'92 Statistics

Photo courtesy Sylvain Sardy

While a graduate student at Utah State, Aggie alum Sylvain Sardy (MS’91 Mathematics, MS’92 Statistics) learned the fine art of telemark skiing. “My graduate advisor Ken Bosworth was my telemarking teacher,” says Sardy, a native of France and associate professor in the Mathematics section at Switzerland’s University of Geneva. “My training ground: the ‘Greatest Snow on Earth’!”

Beautiful scenery, plentiful outdoor activities and Cache Valley seasons are among Sardy’s favorite memories of Utah State, along with evenings enjoying burgers with friends on the deck of The White Owl in downtown Logan.

But Utah State was also where Sardy, who initially studied mathematics, made a pivotal career decision.

“I decided to pursue studies in statistics due to Professor Adele Cutler, who was a great source of enthusiasm and knowledge, as well as a great person,” he says.

With guidance from Cutler and Bosworth, Sardy developed a new, statistical data smoothing method, motivated, he says, by hydrology applications used by Upmanu Lall, a Columbia University professor formerly associated with USU’s Utah Center for Water Resources Research.

The research, Sardy says, involved creating an approximating function that could filter out “noise” from large, hydrological datasets, distill important patterns and thereby allow interpretation of environmental data.

“I learned a great deal from Dr. Cutler and Dr. Bosworth,” he says. “This was a very valuable learning experience for me.”

Cutler says Sardy was the first student she’d ever met who “felt more like a collaborator than a graduate student.”

“We would toss around ideas and he would go away and return with original ideas,” says the professor in USU’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics.

Cutler also remembers Sardy’s kindness.

“One weekend, I accidentally locked myself out of my office with my I.D. inside,” she says. “Sylvain quickly cycled across campus to the USU Police office to ask them to let me in. They didn’t believe him, so he returned, walked with me to the police office, which sent an officer back with me to unlock my office. I was impressed Sylvain took so much time to make sure I was okay.”

From Utah State, Sardy advanced to a prestigious doctoral program in statistics at the University of Washington, from which he earned his PhD in 1998.

In his current position, he teaches all levels in statistics and optimization, supervises master’s and doctoral students and conducts mathematical statistics research in areas ranging from cancer to cosmology. Sardy is also a strong proponent of interdisciplinary collaboration.

“Collaboration with scientists in other fields is interesting and rewarding,” he says. “With my colleagues in Applied Mathematics, we recently created a platform, the Center for Applied Mathematics and Statistics or ‘CAMAS,’ to foster collaboration within the entire faculty of the Sciences here at the University of Geneva,” he says.

Bosworth, now a professor at Idaho State University, says Sardy has “made a name for himself in computational statistics and USU should be proud.”

Sardy returned to visit Utah State some years after graduation and Bosworth recalls they grabbed their skis and headed up Logan Canyon to ski the east-facing slopes of Beaver Mountain toward Bear Lake.

“We had about three feet of fresh powder and Sylvain, myself and my dogs Buddy and Rosie had a blast skiing down the slopes,” he says. “With the snow so deep, getting back up the ridge was a chore, so it was a one-run, three-hour day.”

Cutler says Utah State tried to entice Sardy back to Logan as a faculty member, but even the lure of the great outdoors wasn’t enough.

“Sylvain is an alum we’re are extremely proud of and his expertise is much sought after by universities around the world,” she says. “He collaborates with faculty at top universities, including Stanford. He’s that good.”

By Mary-Ann Muffoletto

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