Mercer University’s Board of Trustees at its April 2022 meeting approved a new major in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences: a B.A. in statistics to add to an already-existing minor in statistics. The major launched this fall, and it has generated a great deal of interest among students.
For years, Professor of Mathematics Dr. David Nelson shepherded the statistics minor. With the hiring of Assistant Professor Dr. Andre Waschka in the fall of 2021, plans for creating a major program moved forward.
The statistics major is designed to easily pair with another major, offering students the opportunity to bring expertise in data analytics to their studies in another field. For example, students who major in psychology, biology or global health, or who minor in data science, would be well served by better understanding how to interpret data in their field.
Any CLAS major could pair well with a statistics major or minor. As the Department of Mathematics Chair Dr. Margaret Symington noted, “In our data-driven world, a solid foundation in statistics is both important and valuable.” She also believes that this major will draw new students to the department, “some of whom will discover the beauty of mathematics.”
The new major has good breadth and depth and follows the Curriculum Guidelines for Undergraduate Programs in Statistical Science from the American Statistical Association. Students are exposed to statistical methods and theory, data wrangling and computations, mathematical foundations, and statistical practice. Projects embedded within the courses include written papers and oral presentations in addition to data analysis and, according to Dr. Symington, result in students taking a “strong sense of ownership of what they are learning.” Courses build on each other, creating a vertical path through the major where students build on skills learned in previous courses. Students learn to program in languages used for modern statistics and will learn about the latest in computational statistics. Dr. Symington notes that this approach “makes the major cutting-edge.”
The addition of a new faculty member to work with Dr. Nelson was instrumental in the development of the statistics major. Dr. Waschka joined the CLAS faculty after earning his Ph.D. in statistics from the University of California, Berkeley. He is the first faculty member to be designated an assistant professor of statistics, and he has already made strong connections with students and faculty in the CLAS and in other Mercer University colleges and schools. He mentors and advises students on their research. Several students from the Stetson-Hatcher School of Business also work with him on their research projects, and he has collaborated with faculty in Mercer’s College of Health Professions. His goal next year is to expand his work to include faculty and student research in the School of Medicine.
Most importantly, the statistics major will give students valuable knowledge and skills applicable to their future personal and professional pathways. Dr. Symington observes that “the statistics major provides students with an educational experience that is very strong in both the transformational and transactional aspects of a liberal arts education.” She further explains that “students gain skills of analysis that can lift the veil on many phenomena and practices in our world.” Their education also has practical value as graduates gain technical skills in data science that are most sought-after by employers.