Mason E. Wescott
Mentor to generations of applied statisticians
When Mason Wescott stepped into his classroom at Rochester Institute of Technology in 1986 to teach a course on sample size determination to a class of students from Eastman Kodak Co., he assumed a comfortable and familiar role. Wescott, ASQ Honorary Member and then professor emeritus at RIT, had taught mathematics and statistics every year since 1925.
Wescott began his lifetime work of educating as an instructor in mathematics at his alma mater, Northwestern University, following his graduation. Later, he earned his doctorate in mathematics there and was appointed assistant professor. He moved on to Rutgers in 1952 and spent 14 years there as professor of applied statistics, working with Ellis Ott. In 1966, he was called to RIT to build and administer the graduate program in statistics.
Looking back on his teaching experiences, Wescott reflected that over the years "students have been very capable right along; there are differences in the way you teach, more so than differences in ability of the students." Instructional tools and facilities have also changed. The Mason E. Wescott Statistics Laboratory at RIT was dedicated in his honor in 1984.
ASQ's Eugene L. Grant Award for 1980 was presented to Wescott in recognition of his work in education in the field of statistical quality control.
Wescott's whole-hearted devotion to quality control came about after participating in a course on "Quality Control by Statistical Methods" taught by Edwin G. Olds at Ohio State University for the Office of Production Research and Development of the War Production Board during World War II. Wescott was one of the "eight-day wonders," as graduates of these courses were called; many went on to become founding members of ASQ. He also served on the instruction staff of those intensive training courses, and he worked with Olds and Holbrook Working on a project for the War Production Board that resulted in publication of 12 reports that were landmarks in the early literature of statistical quality control.
In his lengthy association with ASQ, Wescott maintained his role as educator. He succeeded Martin Brumbaugh as editor of Industrial Quality Control (IQC) and chair of the Editorial Board, posts he held from 1947 to 1961. He said that experience stood out as the high point of his affiliation with ASQ.
Wescott worked with Brumbaugh to publish the papers presented at the first Midwest Quality Control Conference in IQC. He later persuaded organizers of the 1947 Midwest Conference, which was serving as host for the first nationwide technical conference, to publish ASQ's first book of technical conference papers. Wescott also served as chairman of the Sixth Midwest Quality Control Conference.
As a member of ASQ's board of directors from 1947 to 1961, Wescott was an active councilor on all major early developments of the Society. He was in demand as a speaker at section and division meetings.
His writings in IQC during that period bear the distinct mark of the educator, prodding and challenging his "students" to examine themselves as a professional technical society and encouraging them to maintain reasoned discourse through letters to the editor and articles on issues of importance to the profession. The influence of his training as a mathematical statistician also shows; in his Shewhart Medal address he presented a revealing analysis of the publication needs of ASQ as a problem in response surface methodology.
For his contributions to ASQ and the profession "as educator, editor and constant guide in the development of the Society's magazine, and an understanding friend and a stout ally who has given freely of his services and talents," Wescott was awarded the Shewhart Medal for 1956.
Wescott taught in more than 80 training courses held at universities throughout the United States and at in-plant sites. He was recommended by Walter Shewhart to serve on the team sent by the United Nations to India in 1952-53 to conduct training courses in statiscal quality control.
Wescott was optimistic about prospects for students of applied statistics. "It's fair to say that the opportunity for integrating simple and sound statistics into industrial applications is greatly broadened if we will team up with new thinking in management practice. I am glad to see that ASQ is doing this," he said in 1986.