Statistics celebrates 50 years of growth and influence


Each semester many students enroll in Statistics 250 — Introduction to Statistics and Data Analysis — not necessarily because they want to but to fulfill a requirement for their major. One such student recently contacted the Department of Statistics to share her experience.

Despite being admittedly underwhelmed by the prospect of taking the class, the student said she realizes how the lessons learned there might help her in a job after graduation.


As the Department of Statistics prepares to celebrate 50 years, stories like this become more prevalent.

Founded in 1969, the Department of Statistics added an undergraduate program to its master’s and Ph.D. programs in 1977. Over the past half century, the field of statistics has undergone significant changes. With accelerating advancements in computing technology and the emergence of data science, the department has remained highly agile in adapting to new developments in science.

Today, the department is home to three LSA 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 Ph.D. program in statistics.

Across all of those programs, the department hosts more than 800 students annually.

Currently, Introduction to Statistics and Data Analysis is the largest course taught on campus. With an average annual enrollment of approximately 3,700 students, the class attracts nearly 1,000 more students than the second-most popular class.

As a result of technological developments and in order to keep up with the growing significance of statistics, many majors on campus recommend their students complete this course.

With an increasing need for statistical understanding across various industries, the department has grown at an exponential rate – rising to become a leader in statistical education and research. Alumni include data scientists in major international IT and financial firms, as well as faculty at leading institutions, such as Cornell, Columbia and the University of California, Berkeley.

Many current faculty members also serve as core or affiliated faculty with the Michigan Institute for Data Science, and many are engaged in multidisciplinary research, from mobile health to neuro-imaging, with internal and external funding.  

“Faculty excellence in scholarship is always a top priority, and education remains our core mission,” said department chair Xuming He, Harry Clyde Carver Collegiate Professor of Statistics. “I am very proud that we have been able to attract such exceptional talent in statistics and data science.”

On Sept. 20 and 21, the department will celebrate its 50th anniversary with a symposium that will include talks by former professors and alumni, as well as panel discussions. Statistics alumni who have gone on to work in industry, academia or other sectors are expected to attend, as well as many current department members.

“Our department has undergone many changes in the past 50 years,” He said. “We are now extremely well-positioned for another 50 years as a premier statistics department in the country.”


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