In honor of the Department of Statistics' 50th Anniversary, we are highlighting our outstanding faculty and alumni of the past half-century.
Carnegie Mellon Statistics Department alumnus Dean Follmann (Ph.D. 85) recalled one of his more memorable experiences occurred at his dissertation defense. After he presented and answered what he thought was the last question, and feeling good, Prof. Morrie DeGroot asked a question which caused Dean, as he remembered, “to try to push down a rising deer-in-the-headlights sensation.” The question was: ``Since we’re considering whether to give you a Doctor of Philosophy degree, can you explain your philosophy of statistics?” Dean said he stammered something about being a pragmatist and tried to gauge how that was going over in the quiet room when Prof.
Carnegie Mellon Statistics Department alumnus Chris Paciorek (Ph.D. 03) has four different titles in the Statistics Department at the University of California, Berkeley. “First, I have a research position in which I bring in grant money to support my work on statistical applications in ecology, climate, and public health and on software development for hierarchical modeling,” he said. “Second, I teach one class a year - for the last five years this was a graduate-level statistical computing class, but this year I am teaching a Bayesian statistics class.
Michelle Dunn (Ph.D. 05) first learned about statistics on the 1,300-mile drive to college, from her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee. All Harvard freshmen had to pass a Quantitative Reasoning (statistics) exam upon arrival, or else were required to take an introductory statistics class. Although Michelle passed the exam, she appreciated the usefulness of statistics so much that she enrolled in multiple statistics classes over the next four years as part of her applied mathematics major. When she decided to continue her studies in statistics with a master’s degree, she conducted a non-scientific survey of Harvard graduate students, asking their advice about where she should go next. Knowing she was Bayesian at heart, they unanimously encouraged her to go to Carnegie Mellon.
Professor Larry Wasserman, who was recently elected to the National Academy of Sciences (NAS), enrolled at the University of Toronto as an undergraduate to study computer science. “They had punch cards then and I couldn’t stand them, so I switched to statistics,” he said. As he was about to complete his Ph.D. (for which he later won the Pierre Robillard Award for the best thesis in probability or statistics), Carnegie Mellon came calling. “I was sitting in my apartment in Toronto in 1987 working on my thesis when the phone rang. ‘This is Steve Fienberg. Mind if I come over for a cup of coffee?’ “A phone call from a famous statistician was the last thing I expected. What could I say but, ‘Sure. Come on over.’
Carnegie Mellon Statistics Department alumna Kary Myers (Ph.D. 2006) first came to Carnegie Mellon the summer after her junior year of high school as part of the advanced placement/early admission program. Because of her performance that summer, she earned an invitation to leave high school in Montana early and start her freshman year of college that fall in the Mellon College of Science (MCS). For eight years she served as assistant to Associate Dean Eric Grotzinger, working with undergraduates and faculty to improve the student experience and reduce attrition. As part of that effort, Kary was asked to analyze data on freshmen throughout the university to see if it could be predicted which students would need help with calculus.
Growing up, Carnegie Mellon Statistics Department alumnus Scott Berry (Ph.D. 94) engaged in dinner table conversation in which his father, renowned statistician Donald Berry, asked questions and raised issues rooted in critical statistical thinking. “Invariably, when I got to college I found statistics interesting, and was good at it,” Scott said.
Today, he is president of Berry Consultants, which he co-founded with his father in 2000. To devote himself full-time to the new venture, Scott resigned from a tenure track assistant professorship at Texas A&M University. His father, who is a professor in the Dept. of Biostatistics at the University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, works part-time at Berry Consultants.
When Stephen E. Fienberg, the Maurice Falk University Professor of Statistics and Social Science (Emeritus), entered his Canadian hometown university as an undergraduate, he did not know there was a field called Statistics.
It was not until his sophomore year that a course in probability introduced him to statistical concepts and ideas. Hooked, he enrolled in more such classes, eventually applying to graduate school.
After earning a Ph.D. in statistics from Harvard University in 1968, followed by faculty positions at the University of Chicago and the University of Minnesota, he came to Carnegie Mellon in 1980. A year later, he became chair.
Prof. Robert E. Kass, the Maurice Falk Professor of Statistics and Computational Neuroscience, applied for a position in the department in 1981.
In 1957, before there was a Department of Statistics and Carnegie Mellon University – it was then known as Carnegie Institute of Technology – Morris "Morrie" H. DeGroot, who had just earned a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago, joined Carnegie Tech's Department of Mathematics.
A statistician, his interests gradually began diverging from his colleagues, leading him to yearn for a group with whom to share his enthusiasm for research in decision making and other statistical interests.
To that end, he and lifelong collaborator Richard M. Cyert, then Dean of the Graduate School of Industrial Administration, now the Tepper School of Business, developed a plan for a Dept. of Statistics with Morrie as its head.
In 1966 the department was created.