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College of Natural Sciences debuts new division

This fall marks the debut of the new Division of Statistics and Scientific Computation (SSC), a campus-wide service unit in the College of Natural Sciences.

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This fall marks the debut of the new Division of Statistics and Scientific Computation (SSC), a campus-wide service unit in the College of Natural Sciences.

For years, the university’s courses in statistics and scientific computation have been scattered among diverse departments. Though undergraduate and graduate students have been served well, campus leaders recognize there is great power and potential to be found in centralizing instructional offerings in statistics and scientific computation.

“There is a gap of services for undergraduate and graduate students, who are increasingly being asked to take statistics as a requirement for their degrees,” says Cathy Stacy, assistant dean for academic initiatives in the College of Natural Sciences.

The division starts small this year, with 12 courses (all of them in the College of Natural Sciences). When it achieves full strength in six years, the division aims to offer courses to as many as 2,000 undergraduate and 500 graduate students. Beginning in fall 2008, courses with the prefix “SSC” will be available, with more being added each year.

The division doesn’t house its own faculty, but it will serve as a community of faculty and students dedicated to centralizing and augmenting course offerings in statistics and scientific computation. Nearly every college at the university provides funding to support the varied instructional services of the division.

In addition to the course offerings, the division will run a Summer Statistics Institute, with intensive four-day courses that range from basic topics in reading and interpreting studies to advanced classes in Bayesian statistics. It will offer a Graduate Students Fellows Program, which will prepare interns for research and professional consulting in statistical and mathematical science. And it will introduce a Junior Faculty Grant Preparation Program, which will offer promising young faculty free assistance with presenting how they will measure the results of their research.

The division’s Distinguished Lecture Series begins this fall with two guest speakers, statisticians Mike West from Duke University and Arnold Zellner from the University of Chicago.

The SSC’s Statistical and Mathematical Consulting group, which used to be a unit within Information Technology Services, offers free research assistance to all university students, faculty and staff. Contract consulting is also available for more complex data analysis.

“We are here to serve the campus, to meet the diverse needs of students and faculty in different departments,” Stacy says.