People Behind the Models: Biljana Wilsey

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By now, you’ve heard about our work helping customers combat the coronavirus pandemic. As COVID-19 numbers rose rapidly and cities around the world shut down; SAS ramped up. From our Viya-powered COVID-19 dashboard to the COVID-19 Scientific Literature Search and Text Analysis environment and deployment-ready models, our teams moved quickly to be there for our customers when they needed us most.

Biljana and coworker, Da Young Lee, attend a SAS International Connection lantern-making workshop at SAS headquarters.

Our models have helped customers make sense of the data to navigate the pandemic and continue to empower leaders to make informed decisions. But what exactly do these models do, and who brought them to life?

Today, we’re getting to know Biljana Belamaric Wilsey, a Senior Program Manager in Analytics R&D and former recipient of the CEO Award of Excellence. In addition to being active in several of our Employee Inclusion Groups, she's also an avid photographer and the author of several Macedonian-English bilingual children’s books!

Curbing COVID through Scientific Literature

On April 27, the Wall Street Journal published an article about a group of scientists who got together to review existing COVID-19 literature to determine the most promising research and pass it on to decision-makers in the White House. The group consisted of chemical biologists, an immunobiologist, a neurobiologist, a chronobiologist, an oncologist, a gastroenterologist, an epidemiologist, and a nuclear scientist, including a 2018 Nobel Prize winner. Their process was to divide up the papers, read them, flag them, and discuss them with each other. The charter of SAS' Covid-19 Scientific Literature Search and Text Analysis project team of volunteers is to make that approach more efficient. Specifically, the project seeks to help the medical research community, government epidemiologists, first responders, health care providers, and others to survey relevant research, find needles in haystacks, and be able to extract insights more efficiently.

The COVID-19 Scientific Literature Search and Text Analysis environment is something Biljana is very proud of. First, with this dashboard, the team is providing users with the ability to quickly identify relevant scientific literature that can speed up their research and hopefully speed up the results and innovation from that research, which benefits us all. This dashboard is provided by SAS free of charge and can be used by anyone.

Secondly, this dashboard is an example of how awesome SAS employees are, both in their skills and expertise and in their willingness to put in hundreds of hours of their own time to provide a service to the community as volunteers. It also symbolizes the collaboration and cooperation that we can have as employees at SAS from different divisions and geographical locations. The team had employees from the U.S., Europe, and Australia contributing their ideas and lines of code. There were employees of varying tenure at SAS from a few weeks to over 20 years collaborating to create something bigger than each individual team member.

Behind the Why

Biljana began her career at SAS in 2004 as an intern, then converted to part-time and then full time. After taking 5 years off, she has been back at SAS now for over 6 years, bringing her total tenure at SAS to over 11 years. She’s seen the company evolve over the years, and has always enjoyed working with the people on the various teams that she’s been a part of. The opportunities that have presented themselves over the years to expand her horizons and learn new skills have challenged her to grow as the world changes around us.

When the impact of the coronavirus epidemic became obvious, Biljana wanted to do something to help. Her colleague, Richard Crowell, who was heading up the Covid-19 volunteer effort for Analytics R&D, talked her into taking charge of the Text Analytics response. With knowledge of text data and SAS products for text mining and information extraction, Biljana was excited that she could use her skillsets to allow better and faster access to scientific literature, therefore leading to medical advancements.

Outside the Office

Biljana is happiest when spending time with family. You can often find them outside hiking, swimming, or playing board games together. With creativity being at the core of what she does, Biljana is passionate about playing piano and dabbling in the arts. But most importantly? She’s an advocate for education through her non-profit organization, the Macedonian Language E-Learning Center, which offers free resources for teaching and learning the Macedonian language and culture.

Thanks, Biljana, for sharing your work and story with us! Curious to learn more about how SAS is making a difference in the global fight against COVID-19? Check out our COVID-19 Data Analytics Resource Hub and stay tuned to hear about more People Behind the Models. 

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About Author

Danielle Adams

HR Associate Communications Specialist

Danielle is an HR Associate Communications Specialist at SAS. A firm believer that it's not necessarily about WHAT you do for people, but HOW you make them feel, she's passionate about company culture and communicating why SAS is such an empowering place to work. Danielle graduated from Meredith College with a B.A. in Communications and a concentration in Public Relations.

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