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College Adds New Statistics Major

Issue | Wed, 02/26/2014 - 01:12

Photography Editor Olivia Tarantino '15

Last week, the Department of Mathematics changed its name to the Department of Mathematics and Statistics and began offering a new statistics major within the department.

The creation of the statistics major has been six years in the making. The major was created from the collaborative efforts of Professors Amy Wagaman, Shu-Min Liao and Nicholas Horton. The Department of Mathematics and Statistics has also hired another lecturer for the spring to round out the statistics faculty.

The statistics major uses a curriculum different from the mathematics curriculum in its emphasis on real-world application, clear communication and computing skills. The major requirements reflect these components by combining a background in mathematics, statistics, computer science, data analysis and the use of projects to culminate in a senior capstone project.

“You’ve got a math background because math is something you need in order to be able to analyze questions,” Wagaman said, explaining the components of the statistics major. “And then you have statistic courses that are applied and you have data, and start to address models at a level that doesn’t take as much of the math because you’ll be taking math at the same time. Then we have more advance courses where you will be using the math to really delve into how does this test works and derive why it works that way.”

The entire curriculum has a clear emphasis on interdisciplinary skills beyond mathematics or analysis in order to provide majors will the skills and experience to solve real-world problems and effectively communicate solutions.

The major’s senior capstone course will require statistics student to pursue an in-depth project on a topic of their interest, then turn in this project for a comprehensive evaluation.

“Statistics classes are statistics; they use math as a tool, but it’s not the only thing you need to be a good statistician,” said Wagaman. “A lot of people think statistics is math, but to a statistician they are not exactly the same thing, so to be a statistician you need more skills about collaborating, communicating ideas and really thinking hard about a problem.”

The senior capstone course aims to use these skills by asking students to tackle a problem of their choice and solve it as a statistician would.

“The idea [of the senior capstone course] is that is really what a statistician does, they have a problem of interest, get data, analyze it, but you don’t stop there, you have to communicate your findings in such a way they’re useful to other people,” Wagaman said.

Ajanae Bennett ’16, the first student to declare a statistics major, pointed to the real-world applicability of statistics as her reason for choosing statistics.

“Out of all the classes in the math department, there is more practical use and more real-world use in statistics while proofs in math gets bogged down in theory,” Bennett said.

Daniel Kaplan ’17, a potential mathematics major, also said he sees the advantage of a statistics major.

“It’s a great step for the math department to take because it enables students to specialize more in math related things they want to go into,” Kaplan said. “Nobody is going to complain if they have more choices.”

The statistics major is housed within the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. The department does not plan to split in the future and will remain as one department offering two majors.

The numbers of statistics faculty and courses have grown substantially over the past six years in order to accommodate student demand and to prepare for the introduction of this new major. Six years ago, there were five statistics courses offered and only one statistics faculty member. This semester, there are eight statistics courses offered and four statistics faculty members.

Wagaman said that the statistics major has been so long in the making both because student interest escalated gradually and because it took several years for the department to hire new faculty members.

“We’ve just gradually seen more and more students realizing, ‘Wow, this is really useful. Now, when I read the paper and I see a confidence interval reporting I actually understand what that margin of error actually means,’” Wagaman said.

thus blurring the line between that Amherst consider as ''too professional''/''too applied'' and ''just a tad professional''/''just a tad applied''.

There will be a gathering to celebrate the new major in statistics and the renaming of the department on Thursday, February 27th from 4:00-5:30pm in Seeley Mudd 208. All are welcome to come make merry.

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