Note from Amy Wagaman (Statistics Director)

As Director of our Statistics Program, I’m pleased to report on some of what’s been happening at Amherst this semester.

Our major continues to grow: we’re really proud of our many graduates this spring. Our discussions with other faculty at the college about ways to grow a Data Science program continue. We’re excited that the College will be hosting StatFest in September (see article below) and that the Mathematics and Statistics spaces in the new Science Center will be unveiled this fall.

Science Center entrance rendering

Science Center entrance rendering

This spring’s DataFest competition was another success, with more than 120 undergraduates from across the Five Colleges working to extract meaning from a dataset provided by An Amherst team (Natalia Khoudian ’20, Bodhi Nguyen ’20, Brendan Seto ’18, Jason Seto ’19, Kelly Yang ’19) won a prize for best product.

Amherst College DataFest prize winners

Amherst College DataFest prize winners

Have any news to share? If so, please let us know!

StatFest 2018

Amherst College will be hosting StatFest 2018 on Saturday, September 22 in the new science center. StatFest is a one day conference aimed at encouraging undergraduate students from historically underrepresented groups to consider careers and graduate studies in the statistical sciences.

The conference is an ongoing initiative of the American Statistical Association through its Committee on Minorities in Statistics.

Participants at StatFest 2017 (Emory University, Atlanta, GA)

Participants at StatFest 2017 (Emory University, Atlanta, GA)

It includes presentations from established professionals, academic leaders, and current graduate students that will help attendees understand the opportunities and routes for success in the field.

Panel forums provide information and tips for a rewarding graduate student experience, achieving success as an academic statistician, opportunities in the private and government arenas, among other topics.

Interested in attending? It would be great to see you. You can register here.


Our students have received a number of awards for their academic and co-curricular efforts. Congrats to the following honorees:

Study Abroad Down Under: Adventures in New Zealand

Cassidy Maher (’19) writes:

Sadly, I’m nearing the end of my semester at the Department of Statistics at the University of Auckland. I enjoyed life at a big university where classes are often 300 people or more. Kiwis tend to be more relaxed than we are, so I embraced the more easygoing atmosphere that can sometimes be hard to find at Amherst. Academically, this translates to fewer assessments throughout the semester and a large emphasis on final exams, creating an environment in which you hold yourself accountable. I’m taking two statistics courses called “Data Technologies” and “Introduction to Statistical Inference”. I got to learn HTML, XML, more SQL, and more R in Data Technologies as well as more of the semantics of writing code in general. My statistical inference class is acting as a replacement for STAT370, so it is very theory and math based. UoA is known to have a fantastic statistics program, and I’ve enjoyed being a part of their department (but get back to me after finals). I’ve learned a whole lot of theory and new coding throughout this semester but I also had enough to time to travel around New Zealand almost every weekend, which I think is very valuable in a study abroad experience.

Cassidy Maher bungee jumping in New Zealand

Cassidy Maher bungee jumping in New Zealand

I was able to come early in January (which is the middle of summer in New Zealand) and do research with Chris Wild, a colleague of Professor Horton’s, for 6 weeks prior to the other students arriving. Chris Wild is one of the leaders of the iNZight project that is widely used in New Zealand high schools as a statistical education tool. A team at UoA is currently building a set of modules that teach more advanced skills such as mapping and time series analysis.

I worked with Chris to create the beginning of what will be a text analysis module. It can take raw text data and reduce it to data that statisticians can use to run analyses. It has simple features like word count histograms and word clouds as well as more advanced features such as sentiment analysis and topic modeling. Sentiment analysis computes emotion over the span of a text, which allows us to do things like track the highs and lows within the plot of a book as well as make insights about the author’s opinions and attitudes. Topic modeling is a machine learning algorithm where “topics” are computed across a collection of documents. For example, if you have the entire CNN archive, topic modeling would group technology articles together, entertainment articles together, and so on. I continued working on the module throughout the semester and have learned a lot of front and back end coding in the process. I haven’t completed the module yet but I plan to finish it and test its efficacy as part of my senior thesis.

Studying abroad in Auckland was a fantastic decision and I’m so happy to have had a thesis topic come out of the experience.

Sports Business and Analytic Group

William Zaubler writes: The 2017-2018 academic year was the Amherst College Sports Business and Analytics Group’s (SBAG) first year. Jasmine Horan and I are both Statistics majors who are particularly interested in sports analytics, and we thought there were many more students on campus who shared a similar passion, so we were very excited to start the SBAG. The SBAG had a great first year, in which we laid the foundations for the group to play an active role on campus. Students learned how to leverage R to store, analyze and effectively communicate sports-related data, and learned from professionals in the sports industry, including Jeff Greenholtz ’91, the Director of Editorial Research at the NFL. Also, with Coach Justin Serpone’s guidance, the SBAG was able to develop strong connections with the Athletic Department and students are currently doing analytics work for the Track and Field, Cross Country and Baseball teams. Next year, Jasmine and I plan to work with Coach Serpone to find more ways that the SBAG can get involved with teams on campus.

The highlight of the year for the SBAG was attending the 2018 MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. The SBAG was able to take 16 students to the conference, where we heard from a wide range of speakers and panels, learned from countless presentations and were able to network and meet with sports industry professionals. Although the conference was full of interesting panels and presentations, the highlight, without a doubt, was President Barack Obama’s in person panel where he discussed analytics in sports and his presidency. President Obama was an incredibly captivating and interesting speaker, but unfortunately conference attendees are not allowed to discuss what he talked about (if you are a current underclass student, let this be an incentive to go to the conference next year!). In addition to President Obama, students were able to hear from the commissioners of several major sports leagues, including Rob Manfred (MLB) and Gary Bettman (NHL), general managers and other prominent front office personnel from sports teams, including Daryl Morey (General Manager, Houston Rockets), Austin Ainge (Director of Player Personnel, Boston Celtics) and Nick Caserio (Director of Player Personnel, New England Patriots), and ex-professional players including Shane Battier (2 time NBA Champion) and Steve Nash (2 time NBA MVP and future Hall-Of-Famer).

All in all, this was a great year for the SBAG. We are really excited for next year and cannot wait to further strengthen the SBAG’s relationship with the Athletics Department, get more students involved with analytics for Amherst’s sports teams, and potentially even a host a small-scale sports conference right here on campus!

Hope is the Thing with Numbers: Forays to the Emily Dickinson Museum

Students in STAT231 (Data Science) spent part of their semester exploring text analytics. In addition to their work learning how to use regular expressions, the have a visit to the Emily Dickinson Museum. The article described how “On a quiet, snowy morning, students toured the bedroom, parlor, library and other rooms where Dickinson wrote close to 1,800 poems, and where she died, largely unpublished, in 1886. The purpose of the class was to connect the past with the future.”

Students in STAT231 touring Emily Dickinson’s Bedroom

Students in STAT231 touring Emily Dickinson’s Bedroom

Faculty Updates

Nick Horton

For the past two years I’ve been working as a member of a National Academies Consensus Study on Data Science Education. I’m pleased that the report “Undergraduate Data Science: Opportunities and Options” has now been published. The report considers the core principles and skills undergraduates should learn and discussed the pedagogical issues that must be addressed to build effective data science education programs.

Undergraduate Data Science report

Undergraduate Data Science report

In February, I was named a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

I’m greatly honored to have been named the Beitzel Professor of Technology and Society, which was established in 1999 by George B. Beitzel ’50 to support the use of technology to enhance undergraduate learning. The Beitzel Professor “will have a vision of integrating man and machine in a way that fuses computer, networking, fiberoptic or future electronic technologies with the values of the academy, the ideals of a liberal education and the goals of an enlightened society.”

Albert Y. Kim

We will miss Albert Y. Kim, who will be heading to Smith College in the fall. We’re pleased that his article The fivethirtyeight R Package: “Tame Data” Principles for Introductory Statistics and Data Science Courses has been published in Technology Innovations in Statistics Education. Along with his collaborator Chester Ismay (DataCamp), he continues to update his innovative online textbook ModernDive: An Introduction to Statistical and Data Sciences via R.

Amy Wagaman

I’m excited to be traveling to both Kyoto, Japan for the International Conference on Teaching Statistics and to Vancouver for the Joint Statistical Meetings where I will be speaking about the increasing role of computation in our Probability course. Next year I’m particularly looking forward to teaching our senior capstone seminar in the fall and Multivariate Data Analysis in the spring. I expect to spend most of my summer on research projects, including one for which I’m re-learning Java.

Alumni News

Steve Jacobson (Mathematics and Classics ’82) writes:

I was very pleased to receive a copy of the Statistics and Data Science newsletter. I graduated from Amherst in 1982 as a math and classics major. Back then, I believe there were only two statistics classes available: an introductory course, and a single advanced course. I remember the advanced course vividly because it turned out to be a seminar with exactly one student — me! Jim Denton and I would meet weekly and make our way through a statistics textbook, which I still have. In that era, we fed punch cards into a mainframe, and I don’t think any of us fully grasped how important big data and statistical concepts would turn out to be. My own particular interests always lay in the study of language — I would have loved to have done graduate work in something like computational linguistics, but that was not to be, and alas I ended up going to law school and spending my time developing tax software. It’s great to see statistics thriving now at Amherst, and I look forward to future editions of the newsletter.

Becky Danning (Mathematics ’16)

is heading to the London School of Economics in the fall for their MSc Statistics program.

Megan Robertson (Statistics ’16)

works as a data scientist at Nike. She is still in NYC, but will occasionally travel to Portland to their world headquarters. She is part of a team that is working on modeling the lifetime values of customers.

Jonathan Che (Statistics and Mathematics ’18) writes:

I’m extremely excited to be starting a stats Ph.D. program at Harvard in the fall. I’m looking forward to continuing my studies in Cambridge - it’ll be a welcome change of scenery and pace, and I hope to learn as much as I can from this opportunity.

Jenn Halbleib (Statistics ’18)

will join MassMutual as a Junior Data Scientist in the Data Science Development Program (DSDP). The DSDP trains participants to become well-rounded data scientists while funding a Master’s Degree from the University of Massachusetts-Amherst.

Andrew Kim (Statistics ’18)

is working in San Francisco as an actuarial analyst for Esurance, specifically in their finance department. He is studying for his fourth actuarial exam, which covers familiar topics such as MLEs, Bayesian Statistics and bootstrapping. Andrew has been been exploring the wonders of the Bay Area, investing, and experiencing first-hand the horrors of finding parking in San Francisco."

Jeffrey Lancaster (Statistics ’18)

will be working as a Research Analyst at Gartner (a consulting firm in Washington DC).

Harrison Marick (Statistics ’18)

accepted a job with a company called Big League Advance as a Senior Statistical Analyst in Washington, DC. The company invests in minor league baseball players to help them achieve their dreams of playing in the major leagues.

Sarah Teichman (Statistics ’18) writes:

In August, my father and I will be embarking on a cross-country road trip through some of the national parks in Colorado and Utah on the way to Seattle, where I will start a PhD in Statistics at the University of Washington.

Other news?

Have other news you’d like to share? Please send it along. We’d love to hear about it.

Best wishes for the summer.

Amy Wagaman (director of the statistics program), Brittney Bailey, Katharine Correia, Nick Horton, Shu-Min Liao, and Pam Matheson.

Last updated May 31, 2018

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