May 15, 2019

University of Michigan Statistics: 50 Years Old and Growing

The Department of Statistics at the University of Michigan marks its 50th anniversary this September. Its Department Chair, Xuming He, reports:

In 1912, James W. Glover, a Professor of Mathematics who specialized in actuarial science, taught the first course devoted entirely to statistical theory at the University of Michigan. In 1930, Harry C. Carver founded the Annals of Mathematical Statistics in Ann Arbor. That journal was edited at the University of Michigan until 1938 and has since grown into Annals of Statistics and Annals of Probability, two flagship journals of IMS. So far, four University of Michigan faculty have served as Editor of Annals of Statistics.

In September 1969 the Department of Statistics was officially founded within the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts at the University of Michigan. The original department, established in Mason Hall, consisted of Bill Ericson (the first chair), Chuck Bell, Paul Dwyer, Bruce Hill, Norm Starr, and Michael Woodroofe. Ed Rothman joined shortly thereafter.

For the first few years, the Department awarded only Master’s and PhD degrees. It wasn’t until the fall of 1977 that the department introduced an undergraduate concentration program in Statistics, replacing the previous option that had been offered through the Department of Mathematics.

Since its foundation, the Department has grown at an exponential rate and has risen to become a leader in statistical education and research in the United States. “Faculty excellence in scholarship is always a hallmark of the department, and education is a core mission for us,” said Xuming He, Department Chair and H.C. Carver Professor of Statistics at the University of Michigan. “Our faculty are renowned researchers who are dedicated to their work and strive to provide the best resources and opportunities for our students.”

Notable former colleagues include the current IMS President-Elect Susan Murphy, former H.C Carver Professor Chien-Fu Jeff Wu, former ISI President Vijay Nair, and former L.J. Savage Professor Michael Woodroofe. The current faculty include former editors of major statistics journals, including Annals of Statistics, Biometrics, and Journal of the American Statistical Association.

Several junior faculty have joined the department just in the past three years, including Yang Chen (PhD 2018, Harvard), Snidgha Panigrahi (PhD 2019, Stanford), Yukai Sun (PhD 2015, Stanford), Jonathan Terhorst (PhD 2017, Berkeley), Gongjun Xu (PhD 2013, Columbia), and Ziwei Zhu (PhD 2018, Princeton). They have brought with them great talent and expertise in several emerging areas of statistics and data science, such as biosciences, big data computation, and post selection inference. Another internationally renowned statistician, Ya’acov Ritov, joined the faculty in 2016.

“Since I joined the University of Michigan, I have always been inspired by our outstanding faculty, students, and staff,” said Professor He, who joined the faculty in 2011. “They love what they are doing and excel in what they do. I am very proud that we are able to attract exceptional talent in statistics and data science to our department, and they will continue to take us to new heights in the data science era.”

Today, the Department of Statistics at the University of Michigan offers three undergraduate majors (Statistics, Informatics, and Data Science), two undergraduate minors (Statistics and Applied Statistics), as well as Master’s programs in Applied Statistics and Data Science, and a PhD program in Statistics. Currently, the department is host to more than 800 students across those programs. The Michigan alumni have their presence in major companies of the modern age, such as Google and Amazon, and have joined the faculty in top research universities in the country.

On September 20 and 21 of this year, the Department of Statistics will be celebrating its 50th anniversary on campus in Ann Arbor, Michigan. The celebration will feature talks led by former professors and alumni, as well as panel discussions. All in all, it will be an opportunity to reflect and celebrate the continual hard work and progress that has brought the Department of Statistics to the level of excellence it operates on today. “Our department has undergone many changes in the past 50 years” said Professor He. “We are now extremely well-positioned for another 50 years as a premier statistics department in the country.”

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