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ASA Launches Giving Campaign with Story of Outstanding High-School Student

1 October 2016 No Comment

This month, the ASA is launching an education campaign that will run through the end of November to raise funds and awareness for education programs and resources that support the learning and teaching of statistics. As part of the campaign kick-off, ASA President-elect Barry Nussbaum interviewed an outstanding high-school student, Jenny Chen, who presented a poster at JSM 2016 in Chicago and volunteered at the JSM Career Service, Meeting Within a Meeting (MWM) Statistics Workshop for Math and Science Teachers, and Beyond AP Statistics (BAPS) Workshop.

Jenny Chen

Jenny Chen

Q: What is your favorite subject in school?

My favorite subject in school has varied throughout the years, but I’ve recently found history and calculus to be quite interesting.

Q: Did you take a class dedicated only to statistics? If no, what class did you learn statistics in?

Yes, in 10th grade, I took AP Statistics.

Q: What challenges (if any) did you have in learning statistics?

My particular AP Statistics teacher wasn’t the most encouraging. As a result, it was very difficult for me and my entire class to love the subject. She made something so interesting and useful seem so tedious and boring. It’s unfortunate, but I don’t think anyone came out of that class with a newfound passion for, or even a slight interest in, statistics. (This certainly isn’t the case for all stat teachers though.) If I hadn’t also been working on my statistics paper at the time, I might’ve lost all interest in a subject that I currently love.

Q: What do you think could have made learning easier?

It can be hard sometimes to truly relate to a mathematical subject or concept. We frequently find ourselves asking, “When will I ever use this information in real life?” However, statistics is a subject that can largely be traced to real-life situations; the real world contains so many answers, all with so many questions. Exposing students to how statistics impacts our daily lives with specific, engaging examples would make learning the subject much easier and more interesting.

Q: Was there anything particular that was helpful to you while learning statistics?

When running tests and using confidence intervals, my teacher gave us acronyms to remember all the steps to run. For statistical tests, it was PHANTOMS (i.e., parameters, hypothesis, assumptions, name of test, test statistic, p-value, make a decision, and summary). For confidence intervals, the acronym we used was PANIC (i.e., parameters, assumptions, name interval, interval, and conclusion).

Q: What is the hardest part about learning statistics? Is there a certain area that is harder for you? And how did you get through that?

I was never the best at probability, so when the unit came, I just worked extra hard for my visually inclined brain to make sense of it all with diagrams and drawings. In the end, I ended up doing pretty well on the unit test.

Q: We often hear that students are anxious about starting statistics in school. Were you anxious at all about learning statistics? If so, why?

I wasn’t anxious at all. My freshman year math class had already introduced basic statistics, such as standard deviations and means, and I found it all to be quite interesting.

Q: Do you have anything else you’d like to say about your experience learning statistics?

Statistics was unlike any math class I had ever taken. Although there are still numbers and formulas that are associated with the subject, the collection, analysis, interpretation, and presentation of data that comes with statistics definitely appealed to me more. I love math, but the real-life applications and organization of data in statistics was truly a breath of fresh air.

Q: What do you plan to study in college?

I plan to study either biostatistics or actuarial science in college.

Q: How did you become familiar with the ASA?

My father has been a part of the ASA for a long time now. I have attended several JSM meetings with him.

Q: Tell us about how you came up with your poster, “Is There Any Racial Difference in Swimming Speed? A Nonlinear Swim Hockey-Stick Mixed-Effects Model.”

Jenny Chen with a swimming trophy.

Jenny Chen with a swimming trophy.

My swimming career started when I was only five years old. From the beginning, I loved the sport and began improving at a rapid pace. Soon enough, I found myself to be the state champion for my entire age group in South Dakota, Georgia, and even New York. If you haven’t guessed already, I loved everything about the sport.

However, when I was around 13 or 14, my swimming performance hit a plateau in a sport where improving is everything. The plateau hit me like a freight train and caused doubt to obscure the path to my goals. I began to fear diving into a race instead of relishing it, and everything that used to ignite a fire in me began to work against me.

Soon enough, this plateau began to affect my life outside the pool. My enthusiasm for everything was noticeably dampened, for something I had always remembered as a cherished haven to fall back on during bad times had been stolen. Something I had always loved to do, competitively, or just to pass time, had been torn away, and it seemed that there was no way to recover. It seemed that no matter how much work I put in, I could not surpass my teammates, and I needed an answer. Why was this? Why me?

This is where my love for statistics began.

With some theories in mind, I decided that the only way to assuage my question—”Is There a Racial Difference in Swimming Speed?”—was to use statistics. Having taken AP Statistics as a sophomore, I had thoroughly enjoyed the course because of the subject’s ability to deem things “significant.” So, for the next year, I conducted research using preliminary data from the USA-Swimming Association webpage, and with some help, successfully produced an eight-parameter, nonlinear hockey stick model that showed a significant difference in speeds between Asians and non-Asians.

Q: Tell us about your experience presenting a professional poster at JSM.

Jenny Chen discusses her poster at JSM 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.

Jenny Chen discusses her poster at JSM 2016 in Chicago, Illinois.

The experience was overall very positive. I thoroughly enjoyed sharing my findings and stories with those who were interested. It’s always a pleasure to meet new people.

During my presentation, I met several professors and RTI employees from North Carolina, near where I live! I even met some swim coaches who had the same question regarding racial differences in swimming! One professor, however, thought I was in college instead of high school and kept interrogating me with difficult questions, each harder than the one before. Luckily, I could answer most of them, but it was still an invigorating experience.

It was also very enlightening when I got the amazing opportunity to volunteer at the JSM Career Service, Meeting Within a Meeting Workshop, and Beyond AP Statistics Workshop.

Volunteering plus my presentation made JSM a worthwhile experience.

Q: What did you get out of presenting your poster at JSM?

I’ve learned that the statistical community is one that I would very much like to be a part of in the future.

It is critical that we ensure students at all levels—from kindergarten through 12th grade—receive the kind of statistics education Jenny did, which gave her the tools to succeed. Visit the education section of the ASA’s website to learn about all the things the ASA is doing to support students like Jenny. And don’t forget to donate now to help!

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