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Virginia Tech Department of Statistics Celebrates 60 Years

1 November 2009 No Comment
Brooke Marshall (’09); Jean Gibbons (’62); Stephanie Pickle (’06); Kathryn Tucker (’00); and Eric Smith, Head of Virginia Tech Department of Statistics

Hutcheson Hall, home of the Virginia Tech Department of Statistics

Students, faculty, and alumni celebrated the 60th anniversary of the Virginia Tech Statistics Department during the Joint Statistical Meetings in Washington, DC, this past August. More than 60 people attended the dinner for fellowship and remembrances, including alumni from graduating classes spanning the past several decades.

Established in 1949 by Boyd Harshbarger, the Virginia Tech Statistics Department was one of the first in the nation. Harshbarger also helped organize the first Regional Statistics Summer Session in the United States, which preceded the founding of the statistics department by two years and included such speakers as George W. Snedecor, Gertrude M. Cox, and W. Edwards Deming.

When the department was established, a Master of Science degree in statistics was offered. Courses such as Statistical Methods, Probability, Statistical Inference, and the Theory of Least Squares were required. Similar fundamental courses are still the basis of the master’s program today. By 1952, students could formally enroll in a Doctor of Philosophy degree program and, in 1957, a Bachelor of Science degree in statistics was offered.

Harshbarger and Milton Terry were the only faculty members during the first year of the department’s existence. Between 1950 and 1952, four faculty members joined, including Ralph Bradley, who later left to found the department of statistics at Florida State University, and David Duncan, who is widely known for his multiple comparison method.

Regular graduate summer sessions were offered through the Southern Regional Education Board during the department’s early years. These sessions rotated through Virginia Tech, North Carolina State University, Oklahoma State University, and the University of Florida and carried scholarships funded by the National Science Foundation.

In 1972, Harshbarger resigned and Clyde Kramer served as interim head until Jesse Arnold was appointed in 1973. While Arnold served as head of the department, the Statistical Consulting Center was established. The statistics department previously offered consulting services to the College of Agriculture, but now expanded its services across the university to all faculty and students. Raymond Myers became director of the consulting center in 1974 and was responsible for developing a program to train graduate students in consulting.

Klaus Hinkelmann took over the statistics department in 1982 and, in 1984, the Sir Maurice G. Kendall library was founded, which includes Kendall’s personal books and papers. The departmental computing laboratory was established in 1985 and, in 1993, Marvin Lentner was appointed the fourth department head.

In 1999, Geoff Vining became the fifth head of the department. He was the first to also be a graduate of the department. During his tenure, the Corporate Partners program was initiated as a cooperative outreach venture to solidify relationships built by the department with industry and government. Also, roughly half of the faculty members retired, leaving positions open for new professors.

In 2006, Eric Smith was appointed department head. He established the Laboratory for Interdisciplinary Statistical Analysis, which replaced the Statistical Consulting Center.

During its 60-year history, the Virginia Tech Statistics Department has emphasized a well-rounded foundation in theoretical and applied statistics through its course offerings and prepared students for jobs in academia and industry. Since 1949, more than 250 PhD degrees, 500 master’s degrees, and 400 bachelor’s degrees have been awarded. The integrity of the department also has been proven by the professional publications and research grants obtained by faculty and graduate students. Today, the department boasts 20 faculty members and 60 graduate students.

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