Advancing workplace diversity is more important today than ever before. Benefits of a diverse and inclusive workplace include a deeper trust and commitment from employees, respect among employees of different backgrounds, and the ability to integrate different perspectives to drive innovation.

We are excited to host the first ever Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) Panel Discussion at PharmaSUG! The following distinguished panelists will participate in this discussion: Jesse Chittams, Portia Exum, Justine Herrera, Dr. Amanda Masino, Dr. Paulette Ceesay, and Mary Varughese. This panel discussion has been organized by Eunice Ndungu, Rohit Alluri and Radha Railkar from the Biostatistics and Research Decision Sciences (BARDS) department at Merck. This is part of a larger effort to promote the understanding of DEI at Merck, and through PharmaSUG, the industry as a whole.

Panelists (click for bio)

In this 2-hour discussion, the panel members will provide their thoughts on many aspects of DEI and will answer questions from the moderators and audience. We hope to generate a rich discussion on this issue that will promote a better understanding of the benefits, issues and challenges and will energize us to take steps to promote DEI in the workplace.

Panelist Biographies

Dr. Paulette Ceesay

Dr. Paulette Ceesay is a Principal Scientist in the neuroscience and ophthalmology therapeutic areas at Merck where she provides statistical support in the design, methodology and implementation of clinical trials. She has also worked in the diabetes, cardiovascular, and anti-infective areas. Paulette co-leads the Biostatistics and Research Decision Sciences Diversity and Inclusion Task Force. The goal of the Task Force is to attract more diverse candidates, as well as continue to develop and inspire current employees as part of Merck’s diverse and inclusive work force. She was also an adjunct in the statistics department at Temple University. Prior to her statistics career, she was a group health and pension actuary.

Jesse Chittams

Mr. Jesse Chittams joined the University of Pennsylvania in 1994 after graduating with a degree in Mathematical Statistics from the University of Maryland. With over 28 years of experience, Mr. Chittams has acquired considerable expertise in data management and statistical analysis through his managerial roles at several data coordinating centers. Currently, Mr. Chittams is the Managing Director of the Biostatistics Consulting Unit (BECCA Lab) within the University of Pennsylvania. Furthermore, Mr. Chittams also has significant experience in mentoring high school students, undergraduate, and graduate students one-on-one through the Diversity Initiative in Research for Underrepresented Minorities (DRUM) program that he initiated in 2001. Throughout his career, he has helped to train over 100 interns in statistics, and served as the Chair of the Committee on Minorities in Statistics for the American Statistical Association.

Portia Exum

Portia Exum is a Software Development Engineering Manager at SAS Institute. She holds a BA in both Mathematics/Statistics and Economics, and an MS in Statistics. Having over a decade of Software Research and Development and Analytics experience, she's served in a variety of software testing, test automation, and statistical consulting roles throughout her career. She enjoys building teams, solving complex problems, and working with SAS' executive leadership and recruiters to improve management practices to make the work environment more diverse and inclusive. She is the co-founder of the Black Initiatives Group (BIG) at SAS, a member of ASA’s committee for Minorities and Statistics, and the co-chair of the sub-committee for Promoting and Engaging Racial Inclusion for their Anti-Racism Task force. Portia is passionate about working towards more diversity, inclusivity and equity in STEM fields and developing the next generation of statisticians and developers.

Justine Herrera

Justine Herrera is the Director of Academic Programs for the Department of Biostatistics at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health. She has a Master’s degree in Higher & Post-secondary Education from Teacher’s College and has over 17 years of experience working in higher education. In her current role, she oversees the academic progress of over 300 graduate students and ensures a high quality of advising for each student. Justine also manages the Biostatistics Epidemiology Summer Training (BEST) Diversity program, which introduces undergraduate students from underrepresented populations to biostatistics and cardiovascular and pulmonary disease research. Through the BEST Diversity program, she has advised nearly 180 participants through the graduate admissions process and has helped several BEST alumni pursue a graduate degree at Mailman. Justine has been an avid supporter and participant at conferences and workshops that promote diversity in the STEM field.

Dr. Amanda Masino

Amanda Masino, Ph.D., is Associate Professor of Biology and Chair of Natural Science at Huston-Tillotson University (HT), a historically Black college or university (HBCU) in Austin, Texas. Amanda created and now directs HT’s STEM Research Scholars Program, which in the last 6 years has provided over 150 funded undergraduate research experiences to HT students. Amanda led an NSF-funded re-design of HT's Natural Science curriculum to emphasize inquiry-led learning and embed research skills into coursework. She also directs the St. David’s Foundation Scholars, a pre-health career enrichment and scholarship program which seeks to diversify health fields, and mentors HT’s chapter of the Minority Association of Premedical/Pre-health Students. Her own research projects include a resident-focused investigation of affordable housing impacts and the environmental health of our homes, a collaborative project investigating urban wildlife as environmental sentinels, and student-led analysis of cardiovascular health disparities. In 2019, she was chosen by the American Association for the Advancement of Science and Lyda Hill Philanthropies as an IF/THEN Science Ambassador.

Mary Varughese

As the Executive Director, Mary Varughese provides leadership, strategic direction, and high-level analysis/reporting and submission expertise to the late stage Oncology statistical programming group in the Merck Biostatistics and Research Decision Sciences (BARDS) department. This group includes 80+ statistical programmers and 5 Directors. She is accountable for the development of TA standards and efficient procedures to accelerate worldwide product approvals and overseeing the quality and timeliness of programming deliverables in the Oncology group. Mary has 20+ yrs. of experience leading/supporting statistical programming groups at Merck. Mary believes that diversity and inclusion enhances a team as each person brings their own unique experiences, perspectives, and skillsets to the table, leading to greater innovation and creativity. Mary has been actively educating herself by engaging in learning assets through Merck’s Global D&I Resource Center, as well as conducting team building activities and workshops that fosters empathy, openness, and self-reflection.