Greetings from Amherst College

We’re pleased to bring this issue of the Statistics and Data Science Newsletter. As always, we look forward to sharing your updates. Please don’t hesitate to be in touch.

Memorial for Professor Jim Denton

We were saddened by the passing of Jim Denton, Professor of Mathematics, Emeritus, on Sunday July 14th. Upon his retirement in 2005, the following tribute to Prof. Denton was offered by the college:

When James Denton arrived at Amherst in 1964, the number of statisticians teaching at liberal arts colleges was in the single digits. Yet it was clear from the outset that Denton had found his home. A mathematician with passions for music, engineering and philosophy, he asks questions that move beyond medians and binomial designs to encompass the elusive nature of the creative process and the aesthetics of problem solving in many spheres. An admirer of Bertrand Russell, Denton maintains a philosophy of learning and teaching that is reminiscent of Russell’s view that “Everything is vague to a degree you do not realize till you have tried to make it precise.”

Seeking understanding has been a lifelong avocation for Denton. As a child, he dismantled and reassembled clocks in order to learn about their workings. Later, he taught himself how to build instruments such as oscilloscopes and volt-ohm-milliammeters from kits. Equally inspired by the mechanics and splendor of music, he mastered, largely on his own, the French horn, the piano and the organ, as well as a large body of music theory and musicology; he was playing in a professional orchestra by the time he was a teenager.

Denton entered Caltech to become an electrical engineer, but after being dazzled by a freshman chemistry class taught by Linus Pauling, he became a chemistry major. As a young chemist, Denton was asked by a supervisor to learn to analyze data from a single book, Statistics for Chemists. He chose to attend graduate school to develop a more thorough understanding of the subject. A Ph.D. later, and in the years since, he has focused his research in biostatistics, engineering statistics and the theory of statistics.

As a teacher, Denton is known for his challenging, open-ended questions. He expects students to be active participants in their own learning and stresses the importance of finding the neatest and most elegant solutions to the problems he presents. Denton views his role as that of a guide and contends that “Mathematics is not a spectator sport, and students should be prepared to play.”

As Amherst’s first statistician and first African-American faculty member, Jim Denton was a pioneer. We know he will continue to blaze new trails and wish him Godspeed, wherever those trails take him.

Memorial gathering: There will be two events on campus on Saturday, September 21, 2019 in honor of Professor Jim Denton’s passing:

StatFest 2018

Participants at StatFest 2018 (Amherst College)

Amherst College was proud to host 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.

It included 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 provided 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.

This year’s StatFest will take place in Houston, Texas. Amherst professor Brittney Bailey is serving as part of the national organizing committee.


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

Five College DataFest 2019 Best in Group winners

Jasmine Horan ’19

Statistics Theses

Congratulations to this year’s thesis writers for their excellent work:

Need Stats Help? Ask a Colleague

“Two heads are not just better than one,” says a chemistry professor who consults weekly with a statistics professor. “They’re actually like three.” See more of the article from the Amherst News here.

Professors Wagaman and Jaswal

Students Stats Fellows Give Back

These data whizzes are lending their skills not only to other students but to the College as a whole. Read more of the article from the Amherst News here.

Statistics and Data Science Fellows

Update from Japan

Shu Amano (’21) writes about his project in Japan:

At the National Cerebral and Cardiovascular Center (NCVC) last summer, I helped with the analysis of data collected from clinical trials and observational studies. I also did a bit of work doing sample size calculations for an upcoming medical device clinical trial for regulatory submission in Japan. Since I was dealing with medical research data, most datasets that I handled were relatively small (below 500 subjects) with very improbable events. Thanks to this, I learned a lot of nonparametric methods, on top of other techniques such as survival analysis and propensity score-based analysis. I was also able to get extensive R coding experience, which will be helpful in the future.

I was very lucky that I had an amazing mentor Dr. Hamasaki, the head of the data science department and a colleague of Professor Horton. This was my first exposure to the world of biostatistics, and it was fascinating to learn from him just how much statistical considerations were put into the development of new drugs and medical devices. Throughout my time at NCVC, Dr. Hamasaki also showed me what it means to be a skilled statistician. It’s one thing to hear the importance of “effective statistical communication” or “careful handling of data” in class, and another to actually see it in practice. It was especially interesting to learn just how cautiously how data was managed, starting from the collection phase, with getting informed consent and anonymization, until cleaning and finally locking of the database. The department even had multiple “data managers” specializing in maintaining the integrity of data so that any analysis would go smoothly.

It was nice getting a glimpse of what it’s like to work in Japan, and I was glad to learn that working conditions there are not as bleak as I imagined. Being Japanese, I consider working in Japan to be a very real option and having this knowledge would be very helpful for my career choices. If I do end up in Japan though, I would definitely try to stay away from 2-hour commutes. Standing in a train is not a very good way to spend 4 hours of every weekday… Regardless, interning at NCVC was a fantastic experience and I’m glad I was able to learn so much that summer.

RLadies Amherst

Silvia Sotolongo ’19 and Andrea Boskovic ’21 write:

The new RLadies Amherst group video-conferenced with Amelia McNamara and Mine Çetinkaya-Rundel on Tuesday, April 16th. Amelia McNamara is a professor at the University of St. Thomas, where her work focuses on creating better tools for novice data analysts. Mine Çetinkaya-Rundel is a professor at Duke University where she researches new innovations in statistics pedagogy. Mine also works in the RStudio Education Team.

Amelia and Mine both introduced themselves and their work, and then graciously fielded questions from the students in attendance. We asked for advice on careers in Statistics or for Statistics graduate school, as well as their experiences between women in the field.

When asked how they’ve seen the statistics field change in the past 5-10 years, both noted the immense differences in R tools as well as pedagogy in statistics from their time in graduate school compared to today. Amelia noted that students in one of her advanced statistics courses make their own R packages by the end of course; Mine, who is originally from Turkey, discussed the importance of widening the scope of thinking in her courses to include non-U.S. related data sets and projects.

We thoroughly enjoyed hearing from them, and look forward to more events that bring RLadies, at Amherst and across the world, together!

Building statistical thinking across the curriculum

As part of a program organized by the Moss Quantitative Center, Amherst College Statistics Faculty members have been engaging with colleagues across the college to build quantitative modules for courses in the social sciences and humanities. Modules have been developed in conjunction with Austin Sarat (LJST), Kerry Ratigan (Political Science), and Amy Coddington (Music).


Congratulations to Amherst College, Smith College, Mount Holyoke College, Hampshire College, The University of Massachusetts/Amherst, and MassMutual as this year’s recipient of the American Statistical Association’s Statistical Partnerships in Academia, Industry, and Government (SPAIG) award. The partnership was highlighted “for fostering a diverse and inclusive community around statistics and data science that celebrates academic research, excellence in higher education, and innovative data-driven solutions.” The SPAIG Award was established in 2002 to recognize outstanding partnerships between academe, industry, and government organizations, as well as to promote new partnerships among these organizations. The award is sponsored by the SPAIG committee of the ASA and distinct from other ASA awards in that it recognizes outstanding collaborations between organizations, while recognizing key individual contributors. The award was presented at the Joint Statistical Meetings this summer in Denver, Colorado.

New faculty

We’re pleased that Kevin Donges (Lecturer in Statistics) and Ryan McShane (Visiting Assistant Professor of Statistics) have joined the faculty and will be starting this fall.

Kevin Donges

Kevin Donges joins us after three years lecturing in the Department of Statistics at The Ohio State University. He has also taught mathematics and statistics at Columbus State Community College, Ohio Wesleyan University, and Miami University. Prior to his teaching career, he served 11 years in the Ohio Air National Guard/USAF. He earned an M.S. in Statistics from The Ohio State University, along with an M.S. in Mathematics and B.S. in Integrated Mathematics Education from Miami University.

In his free time, Professor Donges tries to stay healthy by biking and lifting weights. He’s a long-time fan of Tarheels basketball, the Bengals, and Buckeyes football. He also enjoys reading, watching the stock market, and binge watching TV when he’s not being dragged on adventures with his newly wedded wife, Professor Brittney Bailey.

Ryan McShane

Ryan received his Ph.D. in Statistical Science from Southern Methodist University in Dallas, TX. His dissertation was entitled “Modeling Stochastically Intransitive Relationships in Paired Comparison Data”. Ryan has worked for the S.M.U. Recreational Fisheries Program (or S.M.U.R.F. Program). His research interests include the method of paired comparisons, basketball analytics, eSports analytics, applied statistics, simulation, algorithm optimization, combinatorics, nonparametric methods, and interdisciplinarity.

Prior to Fall 2019, he spent two years as a high school math teacher and tennis coach, a year as a credit risk analyst, seven years as a teaching assistant, and has also been tutoring for the past twelve years. He graduated from St. Mary’s University with a Bachelor of Science in Mathematics and a minor in Computer Science and earned a Master of Science in Applied Statistics from The University of Texas at San Antonio.

In his spare time he enjoys playing basketball, watching the San Antonio Spurs, playing the electric bass, playing and commentating Super Smash Brothers, hiking on mountains, and collecting and listening to vinyl records.

Faculty Updates

Brittney Bailey

I have enjoyed my first year at Amherst! Throughout the year, Breanna Richards ’21 helped me review the literature around the prevalence of a unique clinical trial design. This spring, I worked with the Mead Art Museum to improve their system for collecting and managing data on museum visitors. Over the summer, I partnered with Dr. Sarah Bunnell from the Center for Teaching and Learning to do a text analysis of the victim statements in the Larry Nassar case (major credit goes to Noah Solomon ’22 for his work on that project). In May and July, I traveled to two conferences to share my work on new methods for handling missing data in cluster randomized trials. I was attended the Institute of Mathematical Statistics New Researchers Conference, where I had the opportunity to network with colleagues across the nation and gain valuable insight from leaders in the field. A week later, my husband (Professor Kevin Donges) and I threw a surprise wedding for our friends at the Joint Statistical Meeting!

Katharine Correia

In late Fall, I joined a newly formed Faculty Learning Community on Inclusive Pedagogies in the STEM Classroom. Over the course of the Spring semester, seven of us (including two biologists, two chemists, one neuroscientist, one statistician, and one STEM teaching and learning specialist) met weekly to educate ourselves about theory and practice in ways to make our classrooms more engaging, welcoming, and effective for all our students. The gatherings were a highlight of my week each week.

My summer has been full of research and sunshine. After enjoying a family vacation on Cape Cod (during which we experienced extreme heat waves, tornadic thunderstorms, and lots of laughter!), I jetted off to the Joint Statistical Meetings in Denver, Colorado. At the meeting, I presented my work related to the development of a prediction tool to be utilized during in vitro fertilization treatment.

Nick Horton

I’ve been serving as a member of the National Academies Roundtable on Postsecondary Data Science Education. The roundtable meets quarterly to explore ways to improve opportunities for students in this exciting new area.

Last fall, I participated in the short-term project organized by the Kahn Institute at Smith College entitled “Data, Knowledge, Pedagogy: The Age of Machine Learning”.

This summer I’ve enjoyed being part of a small team that published daily blog entries on Teaching Data Science. It’s been fun to share some of their activities and material that I’ve been teaching at Amherst.

Amy Wagaman

Over the summer, I supervised six summer students in different roles (SURF, Call Fellow, interns) and taught stats as part of the summer bridge programming offered to some incoming students. It was a rewarding but challenging experience, and I’m looking forward to my upcoming sabbatical in the spring of 2020.

Alumni and Student News

Statistics alums catching up on their shopping

Ningyue Wang (Christina) ’16 writes: After two crazy years in NYC doing banking, I relocated to Dallas (Texas!) to join a private equity fund that focuses exclusively on food and consumer products. The work has been very engaging, and I finally got to dust off my stats / programming skills to solve problems at work. We look at a lot of messy consumer data, and efficiency in R / data analytics has been extremely beneficial. Maybe after all, finance can be more than dragging formulas in Excel!

Becky Danning ’16

I finished my MSc Statistics degree at LSE in June and am returning to the Boston area for a Data and Survey Research Fellow position at this place: It seems like a very cool research center, and I’m excited to be continuing on in the track of statistics for the social sciences.

Ajanae Bennett ’16

Since graduating Amherst, I have been working as an Analyst at Prudential Financial within Enterprise Risk Management. For the past two years, I have spent some time within a few risk functions, but I currently work in the Credit & Equity Risk group of Investment Risk focusing on structured products and commercial mortgages. My job is to research, quantify and monitor risks related to our multibillion dollar general account portfolio, while exploring new investment opportunities and emerging risks. One of my main projects has been building Tableau dashboards using server data to review mortgage holdings allowing for various stratifications, drill down capabilities and visual mapping. Another has been evaluating third-party commercial mortgage credit models, with a particular focus on the underlying mathematical and statistical methodologies.

While I truly enjoy the more technical aspects of my work, the best part of my job is being able to meet and connect with current Amherst students through our recruiting efforts. Recently, I attended StatFest and met many students eager to explore the depths of statistics and its applications. I left the conference feeling inspired and proud to be connected to the Statistics Department at Amherst.

Caleb Ki ’17

For the past two years, I have been a PhD student in the statistics department at the University of Michigan. My research focuses on leveraging HIV genetic sequence data to draw inferences about the evolutionary and epidemiological processes underpinning the pathogen. I am very pleased to have recently received the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. With the support of the NSF, I will have the financial freedom and more time to actualize my research goals.

Stephany Flores-Ramos ’17

I work in the lab of Dr. Katherine Lemon where we study the interspecies relationship of two commensals, Cutibacterium (formerly Propionibacterium) acnes and Dolosigranulum pigrum, within the rest of the human nasal and skin microbiome. These projects have called on me to use computational methods for comparative genomics. I am interested in learning more about these and other computational methods that I am in the process of applying to biostatistics and computational biology programs for the coming year.

Connor Haley ’17

I’m working with energy and utility data at the consulting company The Brattle Group, where as of this past summer I was joined by fellow Amherst statistician Tim Lee ’18!

Muling Si ’17

I’m still working as a quantitative investment researcher, based in San Francisco. I am also starting to take a Stanford summer online course on Statistical Learning - taught by Hastie and Tibshirani. I’ll keep you posted on how it goes!

Christien Wright ’18

I finished up my first year in my MBA/MS Sport Management program. I entered the 2018 Adobe Analytics Challenge competition with a classmate, representing UMass, and we managed to advance all the way to the finals and finished in fourth place, coming away with a $3,000 prize. The contest consisted of Adobe partnering with T-Mobile, and using confidential T-Mobile data, we had the privilege to utilize Adobe’s Analysis Workspace, which was a powerful set of tools. It was a very fruitful experience and super humbled to have made it that far!

Sarah Teichman ’18

I made it through the first year of grad school at the University of Washington (although a few times I doubted that I would) and passed the theory exam at the end of the year, so now I’m enjoying the summer, working on a project with a professor, and playing lots of frisbee.

Olivia Xu ’18

I’m still at the same app company (Lose It!) that I started at post-grad. Since I joined in summer 2017, I was the 19th employee, and we’re now at 35, so it’s been a really exciting and busy year for us. I’m still the only data analyst, so it’s been fun tackling some big projects with minimal guidance. My day to day work is mostly in R and SQL, and the company is having me take Python classes on the side. I guess that my biggest piece of advice is to learn as many coding languages as you can; I still have a tiny bit of regret not taking more computer science courses that would have made me a more versatile employee.

Our company had a month and a half company trip to Paris, so that was awesome and an experience of a lifetime. We’re hiring a bunch starting in 2019, so I encourage any current seniors to check our jobs page in the spring :)

Kat Cyr ’19E

I was fortunate enough to spend the summer of 2018 at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Summer Program in Biostatistics and Computational Biology. The goal of the six week program is to introduce students to quantitative public health research, focusing on biostatistics and epidemiology. I entered the program hoping to continue working with social networks, but I decided to spend my time studying gene regulatory networks in lung cancer patients in Dr. John Quackenbush’s lab. Although the biological aspect of the project was outside of my comfort-zone, the mathematical aspect of the project was fascinating. The program also allowed me to participate in professional development workshops, enroll in a free GRE course, and provided participants with individualized graduate school counseling. The program solidified my interest in biostatistics and helped me visualize a path to graduate school. I’m truly grateful to have participated in the program and would strongly encourage anyone interested in biostatistics and public health to apply.

Kendall Codey ’19

I will be working in New York City at a company called Trade Informatics where I will be a quantitative analyst.

Kaitlyn Haase ’19

I’m working at EY-Parthenon as an Associate in the Boston office starting in August.

Fengling Hu ’19

I’m heading to Penn for an MD-PhD, with the PhD in Biostatistics.

Margaret Shea ’19

I actually just got offered the statistical analyst job at BU’s Biostatistics and Epidemiology Data Analysis Center. I’m excited to learn more about statistics in a public health context.

Silvia Sotolongo ’19

I will be in Boston in the fall working at RTI International in their healthcare quality and outcomes program. RTI is an independent, nonprofit institute that provides research, development, and technical services to government and commercial clients worldwide.

Chase Henley ’19

I will be heading back to California and working in wealth management for Morgan Stanley.

Thyne Boonmark ’19

I will be starting my master’s at UC Berkeley in Information Management Systems in the fall.

Brendan Routh ’19

I will be working for Ernst & Young in New York City in their Cyberthreat Management department. Although the title does not elicit it, I will definitely be using some of the statistical and data science skills that I learned at Amherst for my job.

Sarah McDonald ’20

This past semester I studied abroad in Auckland, New Zealand! As a child, I have always wanted to travel and see this beautiful landscape in person. It was an incredible experience and I was lucky enough to be able to take the probability course I needed for the statistics major. The University of Auckland has a top-rated statistics program so I really lucked out. I ventured into an application area of stats and took a course called “Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics.” Although it didn’t have much to do with calculations and building models, it focused on how statistics are used in the media and emphasized the importance of using correct statistics to avoid confusion or misinterpretation in politics, criminology, health topics, and of the like.

I also signed up for a new course offered at Auckland that provided an opportunity to intern at a firm in a field related to your major. The Research Agency (also known as TRA) hired me on and I assisted and shadowed most of the teams in the office, observing what they do in their position and how they goals. Because TRA is an insight agency that collects and analyzes consumer data for partner companies such as Asahi and Auckland Transport, it was fascinating to learn how TRA uses statistics qualitatively and quantitatively in order to achieve business goals and assist in improving customer-company relations.

Other news?

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

Last updated August 15, 2019

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