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Press Release

Jonathan Potts

For immediate release:
August 1, 2003

Carnegie Mellon Receives Grant To Train Next Generation of Statisticians

PITTSBURGH—The Department of Statistics at Carnegie Mellon University has received a five-year, $2 million grant from the National Science Foundation to fund a program that helps meet America's burgeoning need for statisticians who are trained to do interdisciplinary scientific research.

Vertical Integration of Research and Education in the Mathematical Sciences (VIGRE) is a training program for undergraduate and graduate students as well as post-doctoral fellows. The overriding objective is to train students to solve a scientific problem by translating it into a statistical question, then explaining the results so that they can be understood by the scientific community. The program also prepares graduate students and postdoctoral fellows to be university-level statistics instructors.

The Department of Statistics at Carnegie Mellon is well-suited to produce researchers adept at interdisciplinary research. The department has a long tradition of applied interdisciplinary research that has become valued throughout the mathematical disciplines nationwide, said Rob Kass, the head of the department. Carnegie Mellon statistics faculty are engaged in research in astrophysics, brain imaging, genetics and finance, to name just a few areas.

"Partly because of the individuals who founded and ran the department in the early days, and partly because of the cross-disciplinary emphasis of the university as a whole, we put substantial emphasis on the value of applied work and the interaction of theory and applications. This has remained one of the distinguishing characteristics of statistics at Carnegie Mellon," Kass said.

The long-range goal of VIGRE programs nationwide is to increase the number of U.S. citizens who pursue and complete doctoral degrees in the mathematical sciences. Statisticians are in demand because of the increasing amount of data generated by scientific research, as well as the growing complexity of that information, Kass said.

Only four of 29 VIGRE proposals were awarded grants this year, said Richard Millman, VIGRE program director for the National Science Foundation. He led the NSF site visit team that reviewed Carnegie Mellon's proposal.

"One of the things that is so impressive in the Carnegie Mellon proposal is the Statistics Department has a clear view of how to broaden graduate education in their department," Millman said.

The key undergraduate component of VIGRE at Carnegie Mellon is the Statistics Department's Summer Undergraduate Research Internship Program. In partnership with Morehouse College in Atlanta, the department brings undergraduate minority students to Carnegie Mellon, where they spend eight weeks engaged in hands-on biostatistics research projects.

The VIGRE program also emphasizes communications skills, which Kass said have been lacking among the mathematical disciplines. Students receive instruction in technical writing from the university's Department of English, which has one of the oldest and most respected technical writing programs in the nation. Students also learn effective classroom communication skills.

"The skills that you need to be an effective teaching assistant or instructor in statistics are very much the same skills that you need to be an effective communicator in applied statistical research," Kass said.

The Department of Statistics is one of eight departments in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences, the second-largest academic unit at Carnegie Mellon. The college emphasizes interdisciplinary study in a technologically rich environment, with an open and forward-thinking stance toward the arts and sciences.


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