Member Spotlight John Barroso
I grew up in Gastao Vidigal, in the state of São Paulo, Brazil. When I was five, my father died, and soon after my mother remarried. For a time she sent me to live with relatives, and because none of them had my birth certificate, I did not go to school. Instead, I learned to read by stealing small pieces of newspapers and putting the letters together. Those relatives sent me back to my mother, who eventually ran away with her new husband. For the next year or so I starved, with few clothes and no shoes.
At last an uncle asked me to move in with him, and it was then I went to school. At school I found peace and soon became the top student in my class. One day I found my cousin’s “green book” on math and started studying algebra, geometry, and statistics. By eighth grade I was able to do the same homework several college students were doing. I was no math genius, but I worked hard and at one point, for fun, I memorized the whole periodic table, including the elements’ weights.
When it was time to attend college, I could not afford to go, so I took a one-year prep course. After paying rent, utilities, and tuition, the only food I could afford was one cheeseburger a day. When I was hungry I would drink coffee. After a year I got into University of São Paulo and graduated with a degree in data processing from Mackenzie University. For enjoyment I studied statistics and probability and made a computer program that produced lottery number combinations. I used combinations to tie together 10 numbers, when the lottery allowed only five. I never won the big prize, though.
In 1996, I came to the United States to study economic sociology at the University of Pittsburgh. For fun, I took statistics classes and learned a lot about regression, experiments, and nonparametric tests. One day I asked the undergraduate director, Henry Block, to let me tutor statistics. Two terms later I was hired as a statistics instructor. In 2000, Satish Yiengar, the chair of the statistics department, offered me an international teaching fellowship. It was then I decided to embrace statistics with all my heart.
I now teach at Duquesne University, where my goal is to make statistics understandable and accessible to everyone. I often write inspirational, conceptual, short texts in the form of a story and place them on Facebook, where my students can access them. In my lectures, I try to explain statistics as though the student in front of me is the poor boy I once was. I try to see myself sitting among them and remember when I saw school as a place where the complex world became simple.