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Department of Statistics Spring 2020 Newsletter

From the Department Head

Murali HaranAfter a long hiatus, the Department of Statistics newsletter is back. There was a lot of catching up to do in this issue so apologies in advance both for the length as well as for any important news items I have missed. Information about our most recent (spring/summer 2020) graduates will appear in our next issue as will some of our most recent news items about students, staff, and faculty. It is impossible not to acknowledge the fact that we are living in stressful and uncertain times with the COVID-19 pandemic having already claimed over 100,000 lives in the US and close to 400,000 lives worldwide (as of this writing), along with enormous damage to livelihoods and economies. And yet, this is a time when many of us have reconnected with friends, which is the spirit of this newsletter.

Our department continues to thrive, even if we are mostly thriving in separate spaces at home and via Zoom meetings online. We now meet online for research, administration, and discussions about teaching, and various members of our very friendly department continue to interact informally via virtual breakfasts, tea times and group lunches. The move from a regular spring semester to one that was completely online with barely a week’s notice went much more smoothly for our department than we could have possibly imagined. Much of the credit for this goes to our outstanding online education experts in our highly regarded World Campus statistics program. I am very grateful to our faculty, staff, and students for handling the transition so well and for being so helpful to each other. I am also very grateful to the students in our class for adapting quickly to online education, and for handling the disappointment of missing time with friends and in-person help from faculty, not to mention missing out on in-person commencement for students in their final semester. We celebrated their successes in an online commencement this year, and we hope to do more celebrating in-person in the future.

I am thrilled to welcome our first-ever graduates of the new Statistical Modeling Data Sciences major, including the inaugural class of just 3 students in Spring 2019! Later in this newsletter you will hear from Matt Beckman about these new developments, along with updates regarding our undergraduate program. Prabhani Kuruppumullage will also share highlights about our World Campus programs. In addition to all the deep methodological research carried out in our department, one of our strengths is cross-disciplinary research, exemplifying the importance of statistical modeling and thinking to solve challenging scientific problems. Some of this research, including statistical models for animal movement, methods for studying the Antarctic ice sheet, and innovative statistics for astronomy, were highlighted in recent public talks by our faculty and affiliated faculty in the Frontiers of Science Lecture Series, now on YouTube. You can read more about exciting interdisciplinary research involving statistics in the latest issue of the Eberly College of Science Journal

I will not attempt to include 4 years’ worth of news in one paragraph, but I would like to briefly note two people who have made enormous contributions to the department through their tireless service. First, Jim Rosenberger retired at the end of the 2016-2017 year.  Jim was department head for 15 years, and the World Campus program at Penn State Statistics came about largely because of his initiative and leadership. His dedication and contributions to the department have been immense, and he still continues to show up to faculty meetings now, 3 years after his retirement! Second, Dave Hunter stepped down as department head at the end of the 2017-2018 academic year after 6 years. He was an outstanding leader as head and continues to contribute to the department in innumerable ways.  I am grateful to both of them for all they have done for the department. On a more personal note, I am grateful to them for the wonderful environment they have created in this department, which has made my job as department head over the past two years that much easier and more rewarding. 

Best wishes,
Murali Haran

University Park, Pennsylvania

May 28, 2020


2019 Undergraduate Enrollment Statistics


Statistics Majors


Data Science


Statistics Minors

2019 Graduate Enrollment Statistics


World Campus


World Campus Applied Statistics Certificate


University Park MAS



New Faculty

Helen Greatrex 

Helen Greatrex joined the department in the fall of 2019 as an assistant professor of Remote Sensing and Geospatial Analysis, split between the departments of Geography and Statistics. She is also a co-hire of the Institute of Computational Data Science. Helen received her Ph.D. in Meteorology from the University of Reading (UK) in 2012. Her research interests include geo-statistics and end-user driven weather statistics within the field of weather risk and international development. Current projects include assessing the impact of rainfall on the disease hydrocephalus, designing livelihood based weather risk metrics in Somalia and assessing the impact of flash floods.

Neil Hatfield

Neil joined the department in the fall of 2019 as an assistant research professor. He earned his PhD in Mathematics Education from Arizona State University in 2019. Neil’s research interests primarily center around how individuals think about distributions and related concepts such as randomness, probability, and stochastic processes. In addition to these, he studies how authors convey meanings through their textbooks and has a growing interest in the equity of Statistics classrooms.

Jung In Kim

Jung In joined the department in the fall of 2019 as an assistant research professor. She received her PhD in Biostatistics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She develops methods for analyzing complicated data sets used to answer public health questions, for instance to understand the causes of Parkinson’s disease and to study the kinds of interventions and treatments that can help reduce incidences of diseases. Her faculty appointment is split between the Department of Statistics and Nutritional Epidemiology in the College of Health and Human Development where she is collaborating with Dr. Xiang Gao.

Hyungsuk Tak

Tak joined the department in the fall of 2019 as an assistant professor. He received his PhD in Statistics from Harvard University in 2016 and did a postdoctoral fellowship at the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute and was on the faculty at Notre Dame University. Tak is a co-hire of the Institute for CyberScience (ICS) at Penn State, and his appointment is split between Statistics and Astronomy. His research focuses on the development and application of innovative statistical and computational methods to solve challenging problems in astronomy. He is part of the Center for Astrostatistics at Penn State, one of the world’s leading centers for collaborative research between statisticians and astronomers.

New Visiting Faculty and Postdoctoral Scholars

Efrén Cruz Cortés 

Efrén joined the department in the fall of 2019 as an Eberly Research Fellow. He received his PhD in Electrical Engineering from the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor in 2017. Efrén Cruz Cortés plans to develop and study machine learning and complex statistical algorithms, including nonlinear methods, kernel methods, sparsity, complexity, and learning on networks. His research plan includes a strong focus on algorithmic fairness, which is the study of the fairness and biases of algorithms and algorithm-based systems that are commonly used in business and other facets of modern life.

Zhou Lan

Zhou joined our department in the fall of 2019 as a Bruce Lindsay Visiting Assistant Professor. He received his PhD in Statistics from North Carolina State University in 2019. His research interests include Bayesian nonparametrics, computing, spatial statistics, and neuroimaging. He is working with Dr. Murali Haran and Dr. Matthew Ferrari on spatial statistics methods for modeling measles cases in Ethiopia, and with Dr. Le Bao on HIV prevalence estimation. He will join the Yale School of Medicine as a senior research scientist this fall.

Changcheng Li

Changcheng joined the department in the fall of 2019 as a postdoctoral scholar working with Drs. Runze Li and Le Bao. He received his PhD in Statistics from Penn State in August. His research is on new methodology and theory for high-dimensional statistical inference.

New Staff Members

Alice Chersoni

Alice joined the department in the fall of 2019 as Administrative Support Assistant to the Department Head. Alice comes to us from Beijing International Studies University, China where she was an English and Spanish lecturer. She works closely with the department head and is the point of contact for visiting scholars and visa-related matters.

Michael Fleck

Michael joined the department in December 2019 as a Multimedia Specialist. Mike comes to us with over 20 years of academic and corporate experience in multimedia development and communications. In his role as multimedia specialist, Mike focuses on brand management and marketing and communication. His experience encapsulates photography, video production, graphic design, illustration, motion graphics, user-centered design, design thinking, creative direction, and software instruction.

Donna McMinn

Donna joined the department in the fall of 2019 as a Financial Assistant. Donna comes to us with 18 years of Penn State experience as a staff assistant in various positions, departments, and colleges. In her new role as a financial assistant Donna assists with all departmental financial matters, grant management, travel reimbursements, expense reimbursements, pcard reimbursements, and departmental wage payroll appointments.

Amy Lynn Schmoeller

Amy joined the department in the spring of 2019 as Administrative Support Assistant for the undergraduate program. Amy comes to us with 6 years of experience in the Department of Sociology and Criminology. Amy serves as point of contact for the undergraduate program and assists the program director and assistant department head with enrollments, course scheduling and future planning. She works closely with students and faculty on all aspects of the undergraduate program.

Stephanie Valente

Stephanie joined the department in the fall of 2019 as Administrative Support Assistant for the graduate program. Stephanie comes to us from Dr. Craig Cameron’s lab in Biochemistry and Molecular Biology where she provided oversight to his laboratory and performed various administrative functions for 3 years. Stephanie works closely with Ephraim Hanks and is the department contact for grad-related issues.

Tom Varughese

Tom is a Penn State IST alum who joined our department in the fall of 2018. Previously working with the Eberly Office of Digital Learning, Tom brings a unique lens of technology, creativity, and front-end development into his role as our department’s Instructional Production Specialist for the online statistics courses. When he is not making graphs, editing video or providing online course support, he is planning events with the department Climate and Diversity Committee or organizing DataFest.

Postdocs and Visitors

Lindsay and Eberly Fellows

Yingdong He is an Eberly Research Fellow working with Dr. Dennis Lin since summer 2018. Yingdong received a PhD from Tianjin University in 2017.

Roberto Molinari is a Bruce Lindsay Visiting Assistant Professor working with Dr. Aleksandra Slavkovic since fall 2018. This fall Roberto will join Auburn University as an Assistant Professor of Statistics.

Haojie Ren is an Eberly Research Fellow working with Dr. Runze Li since spring 2019. She received her PhD in Statistics from Nankai University, China.

Visiting Scholars

Xi Hu, Shanghai University of Engineering & Sciences, China, working with Dr. Dennis Lin

Luca Insolia, Scuola Normale Superiore, Italy, working with Dr. Francesca Chiaromonte

Huiqin Li, Jiangsu Normal University, China, working with Dr. Yanyuan Ma

Meiqi Liu, Xi’an Jiaotong University, China, working with Dr. Lynn Lin

Ruimiao Luo, Shanxi University, China, working with Dr. Yanyuan Ma

Xingyu Yan, East China Normal University, China, working with Dr. Yanyuan Ma

Yanqing Yin, Jiangsu Normal University, China, working with Dr. Yanyuan Ma

Haiyan Yu, Chongqing University of Posts and Telecommunications, China, working with Dr. Dennis Lin

Xinyi Yu (intern), Lanzhou University, China, working with Dr. Qunhua Li

Qiuhai Zeng (intern), Wuhan University, China, working with Dr. Qunhua Li

Xueru Zhang, Nankai University, China, working with Dr. Dennis Lin

Tianqi Zheng, Northeast Normal University, China, working with Dr. Yanyuan Ma


Naomi Altman

Naomi Altman retired at the end of the 2018-2019 academic year after 16 years in the Department of Statistics. She was well recognized in the department and university, as well as the larger statistics community, for her research contributions to and expertise in numerous areas, particularly nonparametric regression and applications to gene expression and genomics. In the past few years she became world renowned as a regular columnist for the popular “Points of Significance” column in Nature Methods that discussed a variety of statistics ideas and techniques for a broad audience. Naomi was also an outstanding departmental citizen, colleague, and friend. She will be missed but we are glad that she continues to participate every so often in departmental seminars and activities!

Kathy Smith

Kathy Smith retired in December 2019 after spending 7 years in the Department of Statistics as a multimedia specialist, and 18 years at Penn State, including a stint in Astronomy. Kathy was not only an outstanding staff member, she contributed greatly to the environment in the department with her willingness to help faculty and staff and students with innumerable other tasks, for instance with organizing conferences and creating promotional materials. She will be greatly missed for all that she did for the department, as well as her high energy and sense of humor. She will, however, undoubtedly lead an active and enjoyable life as a retiree!

Alumni News

Daniel A. Kapinos (BS, ’08)

Daniel A. Kapinos has been awarded the Penn State Alumni Association’s 2019 Alumni Achievement Award. The award recognizes outstanding career accomplishments of prominent alumni age 35 and younger.

In 2008, Kapinos graduated from Penn State with a degree in statistics. In 2010, Kapinos and his wife, Megan ’08, established the For The Glory Scholarship in the Penn State Eberly College of Science. From 2012 to 2018, Kapinos also served on the alumni board of directors for the Eberly College of Science. In 2015, he received the Joan M. McLane Recent Alumnus Award from the Penn State Alumni Association for exemplary volunteer service.

At age 33, Kapinos became the youngest partner at Aon, a $35B global professional services firm. He currently serves as the east coast practice leader for Aon’s Equity Services Team, which helps companies pay employees with stock. Specifically, Kapinos provides deep technical expertise on legal, regulatory, accounting, and tax frameworks to top-tier companies, like Adobe, Hilton and PepsiCo, covering a wide variety of approaches companies use with employee equity. 

John Peterson (PhD ’81)

John Peterson, Ph.D., Senior Director in Chemistry & Manufacturing Control Statistics at GlaxoSmithKline Pharmaceuticals, was recently presented with the 2019 AIChE Pharmaceutical Discovery, Development, and Manufacturing Award for “Outstanding Contributions to Quality-by-Design for Drug Product”. This is a national, annual award that is presented by the American Institute of Chemical Engineering (AIChE).

John received this award for contributions across the pharmaceutical product life cycle through discovery, development, and manufacturing, spanning drug substance, drug product, and in-vivo studies. In particular, he was recognized for his work on ICH Q8 “design space” development, where he created an innovative and highly cited Bayesian approach. A full overview can be found online in the Journal of Biopharmaceutical Statistics.

John is the first statistician to receive this award from the American Institute of Chemical Engineering. John received his Ph.D. in Statistics from Penn State in 1981 under Professor Charles Antle.

For more information about the award please visit the AIChE website.

Alumni Updates

Ben Roberson (BS Statistics, 2018): “Since I graduated 2 years ago I have worked in data science at GEICO as a modeling analyst, and I am currently  finishing up my Master’s degree in Computer Science with an emphasis on Data Science. I work on team building predictive models to predict various things, including underwriting risks, customer retention, and marketing.”
Juan Chang (MS Statistics, 2017; adviser: Don Richards) is working in New York City at KPMG, one of the “Big Four” international accounting firms. He was promoted in March, 2020 to Senior Associate. He writes to say that he is doing well, and he sends his best regards to the department.

Alumni: Please send short updates whenever you can (email Alice Chersoni:
We and your fellow alumni would love to hear from you! 


Student News

Undergraduate Research Highlights

Alex Chen is a senior who has been working with Susan Brantley (Distinguished Professor of Geosciences) and Lingzhou Xue (Associate Professor of Statistics) on environmental statistics research. He has a refereed journal publication in Environmental Science: Processes & Impacts, the flagship journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

David Chen is a junior in the Schreyer Honors College. He  is working with Le Bao and Maggie Niu to estimate HIV key population sizes in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Yinqi (Anna) Zhang  is a junior, and has been working with Lingzhou Xue on network analysis and she received the 2019 Erickson summer discovery grant for her project Learning the Dynamics of Substance Abuse in Social Networks. She is also a key contributor to the R Shiny App summer project led by Dennis Pearl.

Honors and Awards

Luwei Lei and Yuxin Zhang won first place at Datafest 2019.

Alex Chen received the 2019 Patil-Taillie Award, which honors and recognizes an undergraduate student who has demonstrated forethought and application of the use of statistics in the study of the environment.

34 Penn State students were inducted into the Mu Sigma Rho National Statistics Honor Society in a ceremony held in April 2019.

Miranda Chen (graduated in Spring 2019) was selected to receive the Outstanding Guided Study Group Leader Award through Penn State Learning for the spring 2019 semester. Read more about Miranda’s award here.

Graduate News

Honors and Awards

Meridith Bartley was awarded the Big Ten Academic Alliance Smithsonian Fellowship. She is currently working with Autumn-Lynn Harrison of the Smithsonian Migratory Bird Center on the development of novel methods to combine individual bird tracking data from Smithsonian collections with spatio-temporal eBird abundance data to understand population variation in migratory patterns.

Claire Kelling was awarded the Gertrude M. Cox scholarship by the ASA Committee on Women in Statistics and Caucus for Women in Statistics. Read more here.

Kyongwon Kim’s paper titled “On post dimension reduction statistical inference” won the ASA Student Best Paper Award in the Section on Business and Economic Statistics. The paper has also been accepted for publication in the Annals of Statistics.

Hillary Koch was awarded an NIH Ruth L. Kirschstein Predoctoral Individual National Research Award from the National Human Genome Research Institute. She is working with Qunhua Li on statistical analysis of multi-conditional genomic experiments as well as differential analysis of Hi-C data.

Michelle Pistner Nixon was awarded a U.S. Census Bureau Dissertation Fellowship for 2019. Her research focus is statistical data privacy, which studies methods that protect sensitive information while retaining the usefulness of the data. More broadly, she is interested in applying data privacy methods to other domains, especially within the context of public policy and the social good.

Graduate Student Teaching Award Winners

Mauricio Nascimento: Undergraduate teaching support award 2018 (STAT 200)

Sayali Phadke: Harkness Award for Excellence in Teaching 2018

Sahar Zarmehri: Harkness Award Runner-up

Kyongwon Kim: Harkness Award for Excellence in Teaching 2019

Christian Schmid: Undergraduate teaching support award 2019 (STAT 470)

Nick Sterge: Undergraduate teaching support award 2019 (STAT 440)

MAS Student Award Winners

Lejiao Wang: Outstanding MAS Student Award 2018

Thomas Kent: Outstanding MAS Student Award 2019

Program Updates

Updates to Undergraduate
Statistics Major

The field of statistics is changing fast as the nature of data and skills required to access and learn from it continue to evolve. In response, the undergraduate statistics major has changed as well by adding two new courses (5 total credits) related to R programming and Data Science which are now required preparation for every student in the program. The first course, STAT 184 (Introduction to R) welcomes students with no prior experience in statistics, computer science, or programming, and then prepares them to wrangle messy data from diverse sources using the `tidyverse` suite of R tools as well as build layered graphics with `ggplot2`. Along the way, students complete projects that include exploratory analysis of spatial data for a bike-share program in Washington DC, scraping and exploration of web data on the service histories of nuclear reactors around the world, and investigating gene expression data to screen for associations with cancer cell lines. The second course, STAT 380 (Data Science through Statistical Reasoning and Computation) extends these skills to develop proficiency with advanced publication-quality graphics and exposure to topics in data science such as a wide variety of supervised and unsupervised learning, programming simulations, basic natural language processing, and resources designed to couple the strengths of the R language with other tools such as SQL, python, spark, BigQuery, and more. In Spring 2019, students capped off the course with a project that challenged them to use data science for social good resulting in projects that tackled property crime, disposable income, health & nutrition, substance abuse, carbon emissions, pet adoption, and much more.

Introducing the Statistical
Modeling Data Sciences Major

The new Bachelor of Science in Data Sciences is part of an intercollege initiative to meet the need for professionals who can make sense of big data. The program provides students with the technical fundamentals of data sciences, with a focus on developing the knowledge and skills needed to manage and analyze large-scale, unstructured data to address an expanding range of problems in industry, government, and academia. Students in the Statistical Modeling Data Sciences Option within the major learn modern statistical and computational techniques as well as classical regression-based inference and the theoretical foundations upon which machine learning algorithms are built. Whether it’s predicting disease patterns to save lives, analyzing financial markets, or optimizing marketing strategies based on customer behavior, students will learn to extract meaning from data toward an infinite range of applications in industry, government, and academia.

Congratulations to all graduates of our new Statistical Modeling Data Sciences program, and a special acknowledgment to the inaugural class in Spring 2019—Nicholas Cianci, Jiaan Wan, and Wentao Yan—who first blazed the trail of this exciting major. The Data Science degree program at Penn State is part of an inter-college initiative between the College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST), College of Engineering, and Eberly College of Science.

Matt Beckman, PhD
Assistant Research Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Penn State Statistics

World Campus Program News

The Statistics World Campus online program is proud to announce that a total of 139 students graduated during the 18/19 academic year. The World Campus MAS program has graduated 57 student, while 82 students were awarded the Graduate Certificate in Applied Statistics. As one of the leading online statistics programs in the country, Statistics online makes it feasible for people with full-time jobs around Pennsylvania, as well as around the rest of the country, to receive statistics training that is beneficial to their work and long-time career prospects.

Graduates Ramaa Nathan, Joseph Pagano, and Teresa Santosa at the Graduation Ceremony in 2019.

From left to right: Priyangi Bulathsinhala, Mosuk Chow, Ramaa Nathan, Joseph Pagano, and Prabhani Kuruppumullage Don at the World Campus Graduation Celebration in Summer 2019.

World Campus Student News

Tamela Serensits, CEO of startup Trendable, is completing a master’s degree in Applied Statistics through Penn State World Campus. Despite having enrolled as a “plan B”, she has found that what she’s learning through her course work can help her startup grow. Learn more about Tamela’s start-up.
Prabhani Kuruppumullage Don, PhD
Assistant Research Professor, Assistant Director of Online Programs, Penn State Statistics

Faculty News


Matthew Reimherr, Ephraim Hanks, and Lingzhou Xue were promoted to Associate Professor of Statistics with Tenure effective July 1, 2019.


Matthew Reimherr was awarded the 2019 Noether Young Scholar award. The Noether Young Scholar Award is given each year to an accomplished young researcher. This award is made to foster, encourage, and support both research and teaching in nonparametric statistics.

Matthew Reimherr with Doug Nychka at the
2019 Noether Young Scholar award ceremony.

Runze Li was featured on the list of Highly Cited Researchers in 2019 by Clarivate. Read more.

Bharath Sriperumbudur, assistant professor of statistics, has been honored in 2019 with a Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) award from the National Science Foundation (NSF) in recognition of his work exploring “statistical learning, inference, and approximation with reproducing kernels.” Read more.

Associate professor of statistics Lingzhou Xue has received the 2019 International Consortium of Chinese Mathematicians (ICCM) Best Paper Award. His paper, titled “Strong Oracle Optimality of Folded Concave Penalized Estimation” (Annals of Statistics, 2014, Vol. 42, No. 3, 819-849), was selected as one of sixteen ICCM best paper awards in mathematical sciences co-authored by Chinese descendants from 2014 to 2019. Read more.

Francesca Chiaromonte, professor of statistics at Penn State, was recently named Lloyd and Dorothy Foehr Huck Chair in Statistics by the University’s Huck Institutes of the Life Sciences. Her main methodological foci include dimension reduction, feature selection and feature screening algorithms; computational assessment of significance and stability; latent structure and Markov modeling; and functional data analysis. Read more.

Dennis Pearl is the ideator of Project SMILES: Student-Made Interactive Learning with Educational Songs (in collaboration with Larry Lesser at University of Texas at El Paso and John Weber at Georgia State University). This NSF project uses songs in teaching introductory statistics. Students create songs by filling in key words associated with a learning objective, creating professional-quality interactive songs that are designed to engage, lessen anxiety, and foster active learning that enhances statistical reasoning skills. A recent grant supplement supports three undergraduate students investigating the probability that a student understands a concept given their performance on completing tasks in the lead up to the interactive songs. Dennis’s project has recently won the NSF’s We are Mathematics competition for best video describing a research project.

Dennis Pearl’s project “Old Time Random Poll” (a parody of Bob Segar’s classic hit “Old Time Rock and Roll”) got a shout out in Washington Post columnist Pat Myers’ weekly Style Invitational column back in 2017. The song addresses issues in polling like the benefit of live interviewers over automated voice, the importance of understanding the population in using weighting to remove bias, and the ability to control the margin of error with larger sample sizes. “I use the song in teaching STAT 100, asking students to relate the lyrics in the song to critiques of stories about polls they see in the media.” Read more.

Professor Bing Li has been awarded the title of Verne M. Willaman Professor of Statistics. The appointment has been awarded based on the recommendation of the dean of the Eberly College of Science in recognition of Professor Li’s national and international reputation for excellence in research and education. The Willaman Professorships were established in 1999 by Verne M. Willaman, a 1951 graduate of Penn State. Read more.

David Hunter was among the winners of the William D. Richards Software award for the development of the STATNET package for R. Read more.

Aleksandra Slavkovic, Associate Dean for graduate education in the Eberly College of Science, was elected fellow of the American Statistical Association in 2018.

Distinguished Professor of Statistics Dennis Lin has been selected as the 2020 Deming Lecturer by the American Statistical Association (ASA). This is one of the highest honors from the ASA. He was selected for his outstanding leadership and innovation in the field of quality and statistics. Read more.

Dennis Lin received the 2019 Yuan-Shin Chow Award, via The Chinese Probability Society (Taiwan). This award requires a keynote speech, as a Yuan-Shih Chow Lecturer, at the 28th Southern Taiwan Statistical Conference (Taichung, Taiwan, 2019). Dr. Lin spoke on “Ghost Data.”

The invited session entitled Recent Advances in Design of Experiment: In Honor of Dennis Lin’s 60th Birthday was presented at the ICSA International Conference (Nankai University, Tianjin, China) in 2019.

Donald Richards, professor of statistics at Penn State, has been named Distinguished Professor of Statistics. Richards was honored with the title in recognition of his exceptional record of teaching, research, and service to the University community. The honor is designated by the Office of the President of Penn State based on the recommendations of colleagues and the Dean of the Eberly College of Science. Richards’ research interests include multivariate statistical analysis, reliability theory, combinatorics, probability inequalities, representation theory, harmonic analysis, and special functions. He applies these methods to topics in astronomy and astrophysics, finance, actuarial science, and medical imaging. Read more.

Jogesh Babu presented at the NISS sponsored Jerome Sacks award invited session. Each year at JSM NISS proposes an invited session where the previous year’s Jerome Sacks Award for Cross-Disciplinary Research recipient can present a paper on their research. This year’s session was titled, “Statistical Challenges with Astronomical Data.”

Prabhani Kuruppumullage (PI), Laura Cruz (Co-PI), and Priyangi Bulathsinhala were the recipients of the 2019/2020 Schreyer Institute’s Teaching and Learning Scholarship (TLS) Grant, the Pennsylvania State University (2019) for the study “Graduate Student Attitudes towards Online Introductory Statistics Courses.”

John Haubrick was the recipient of a 2019/2020 Schreyer Institute’s Teaching and Learning Scholarship (TLS) Grant for the study “Creating a Peer Review Process to Evaluate and Promote Effective Design and Innovation in Online Courses”. This study assesses the effectiveness of a peer review process for online statistics instructors.

Keynote Talks

Last May, Kari Lock Morgan gave a keynote address at the United States Conference on Teaching Statistics titled Teaching Introductory Students how to Evaluate Evidence. Read more.

Runze Li was keynote speaker in the Symposium on Recent Development of Econometrics, Capital University of Economics and Business in summer 2019. His speech was titled Ultrahigh dimensional precision matrix estimation via refitted cross validation and application to portfolio optimization.

Runze Li was keynote speaker in the International workshop on Statistical Foundation of Big Data Analysis, Northeastern Normal University, in spring 2019.His lecture was titled Test of Significance for High-Dimensional Longitudinal Data.

Dennis Lin was one of the keynote speakers at the 2019 SINO-USA Conference on Quality Management, Xuzhou, China.


Bing Li and Jogesh Babu have published a book in September by Springer titled A Graduate Course on Statistical Inference.


The Women+ in Statistics and Data Science (WSDS) group at Penn State was started by Aleksandra (Sesa) Slavkovic and Claire Kelling in Fall 2019. After being invited as a panelist at the 2019 Women in Statistics and Data Science Conference in Bellevue, Washington, Sesa decided to create an affiliated group here at PSU. The group is to form and build community, provide networking and mentoring opportunities, and to share resources. WSDS hosts informal gatherings to get to know individuals who support the advancement of women who are graduate students, post-docs, or faculty in statistics or data science.

From left to right: Dhanushi Wijeyakulasuriya, Claire Kelling, Aleksandra Slavkovic, and Ana Kenney at a WSDS meeting.

A team from the Penn State Statistics department won honorable mention at the ElevatingMath Video Competition. Hyungsuk Tak, Lingzhou Xue, Dennis Pearl, and Michael Fleck, The Pennsylvania State University: (2 minute video) Estimating the Hubble Constant using Time Delay Cosmography. It is notable that this was the lone honorable mention from a statistics department; the other winners were all mathematics videos.

Staff News

2019 Eberly Staff Excellence Award

Bob Carey has been awarded the 2019 Eberly Staff Excellence Award for his outstanding contributions to the department. The Staff Excellence Award recognizes a staff member who demonstrates integrity, respect, and excellence in all aspects of their position. Bob has been an enormous asset to our department, from our website and day-to-day IT issues to the CAUSE program and related statistics education efforts, and smooth running of workshops. He has been particularly important to our World Campus (online) programs: with over 30 online courses, he works tirelessly to make sure that everything is up and running (no trivial task given fast changing technology and requirements for compliance with rules) and that the content is engaging and accessible to our students. 


United Way

The mission of Centre County United Way “is to improve lives by prioritizing needs and mobilizing human and financial resources to positively impact the education, financial stability, and physical & emotional health of our neighbors.” The United Way challenge kicked off in September 2019 and ran through November 2019.

Tom Varughese and Laura Burghard at the 2019 United Way event.

2019 DataFest

Penn State’s DataFest, an intense annual 48-hour number-crunching competition, saw a whopping 202 registrants in 2019. During the first weekend in April, teams of undergraduate and master’s degree students filled the classrooms in Thomas Building in the Eberly College of Science, ready to work through 3 million lines of code and find the best way to analyze the data. Team R Rusty, consisting of Michael Callahan (mathematics), Yuxin Zhang (statistics), Luwei Lei (data sciences), and Brian Mata (computer science), took home Penn State’s 2019 title.

The American Statistical Association (ASA) DataFest™ is a celebration of data in which student teams work around the clock to find and share meaning in a large, rich, and complex dataset.

DataFest was founded at UCLA in 2011 when 30 students gathered for 48 intense hours to help fight crime through an analysis of every arrest record of the last 5 years as provided by Lt. Thomas Zak of the Los Angeles Police Department. ASA DataFest is now sponsored by the American Statistical Association and is hosted by several of the most prestigious colleges and universities around the country and involves over 500 students. In 2014, teams came from UCLA, Pomona College, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, UC Riverside, University of Southern California, Duke, the University of North Carolina, North Carolina State, Emory, Princeton, Dartmouth, Smith, Hampshire, Amherst, Mt. Holyoke and the University of Massachusetts. Penn State University joined this event for the first time in 2015!  Read more.

Rao Prize

Professor Grace Wahba from the University of Wisconsin was the 2019 recipient of the C.R. and Bhargavi Rao Prize for her fundamental contributions to statistical theory and methodology, especially splines models, positive definite functions, generalized cross-validation, and Reproducing Kernel Hilbert Spaces. Her work has been highly influential in statistics and other disciplines including the natural sciences, economics, epidemiology, psychology, and social science. The C. R. and Bhargavi Rao Prize was established by C. R. and Bhargavi Rao to honor and recognize outstanding and influential innovations in the theory and practice of mathematical statistics, international leadership in directing statistical research, and pioneering contributions by a recognized leader in the field of statistics.

Previous Rao Prize recipients can be viewed here.

The C. R. Rao Prize Day at the Department of Statistics at Penn State in May 2019 featured Professor Wahba and several other distinguished speakers including the recipients of the 2019 Khatri and Krishnaiah lectureships.

The 2019 C. G. Khatri Lectureship was awarded to Professor Tailen Hsing from the University of Michigan for his innovative work on the development of statistical theory and methodology for high-dimensional, functional and space-time data analysis, and for foundational contributions to extreme value theory and long memory processes.

The 2019 P. R. Krishnaiah Lectureship was awarded to Professor Doug Nychka from the Colorado School of Mines for his contributions to nonparametric regression, spatial statistics, and statistical computing, and for his interdisciplinary research in climatology, atmospheric science, and geosciences.


CAUSE held the 2019 United States Conference on Teaching Statistics (USCOTS) on May 16-18, 2019 at the Penn Stater Conference Center in State College, Pennsylvania. The theme of the three-day conference was “Evaluating Evidence” and it included pre-conference workshops, keynote presentations, break out sessions, ‘birds of a feather’ discussion events as well as poster sessions.

On this occasion, Kari Lock Morgan, Assistant Professor in Statistics at Penn State, delivered a talk titled Teaching Introductory Students how to Evaluate Evidence, as one of USCOTS featured speakers

USCOTS enables teachers of statistics to exchange ideas and discover how to improve their teaching. The conference features thought-provoking plenary sessions, interactive breakout sessions, informative posters-and-beyond sessions, and exhibitor technology demonstrations for more information visit:

Astrostatistics Summer School

Penn State’s Center for Astrostatistics held its 15th annual Summer Schools in Statistics for Astronomers designed for graduate students and researchers in astronomy on June 3, 2019 through June 7, 2019. Learn more at the Astrostatistics website.

Ashtekar Frontiers of Science Lectures

From January 18 to February 22, 2020, the Eberly College of Science held the free public lecture series Ashtekar Frontiers of Science with the theme Predicting the Future. Murali Haran delivered a lecture titled Statistics and the future of the Antarctic ice sheet on January 18, and Dr. Ephraim Hanks presented a lecture titled Understanding wildlife connectivity and disease spread through GPS tracking.

The lecture series was founded by Abhay Ashtekar, founding Director of the Institute for Gravitation and the Cosmos and a member of the National Academy of Science. It owes its success to Barbara Kennedy, who presided over the series during its first 25 years, making it one of the most successful science outreach events in central Pennsylvania.

Clogg Lecture

Michael Sobel, professor of statistics at Columbia University, delivered the 18th annual Clifford C. Clogg Memorial Lectureship in Sociology and Statistics on April 24, 2019, in 102 Thomas Building on the Penn State University Park Campus. The lecture was titled “Between Causation and Association: The Role of Sex, Race and Political Party in EEOC Litigation Outcomes, 1996-2006.” The scientific talk of Dr. Sobel titled “Identification of Treatment Effects in Fixed Effects Models for Longitudinal and Clustered Data:  Problems, with Illustrations from Demography” was delivered on April 25, 2020.

Dr. Clifford Clogg was nationally and internationally known for his work in quantitative methods and demography, particularly on the analysis of rates, standardization methods, and latent structure analysis. Contributions from friends and colleagues led to the creation of the Clifford C. Clogg Memorial Lectureship fund. The fund was endowed in 1996. Leo Goodman gave the inaugural lecture on September 27, 1996.


CAUSE is excited to announce the success of the 2020 Electronic Conference on Teaching Statistics which was held online on May 18th – May 22nd, 2020 with over 700 registrants. The conference theme was “Engaging Everyone”. The conference included two keynote addresses by Roxy Peck from California Polytechnic State University and Hilary Parker from Stitch Fix. The program also included panel discussions, breakout sessions, online workshops, and virtual poster sessions.  Read more.

Personal Corner

Ben Shaby and Kirsten Eilertson left Penn State in the fall of 2019 to accept new positions at Colorado State University.

Melissa McCloskey left Statistics to join the College of Agriculture in the fall of 2019.

Sakshi Kukreja left us in November 2019 for a new job in the Department of Electrical Engineering. Sakshi was an outstanding staff member who was enormously helpful to two department heads — Dave Hunter and Murali Haran — and played an especially important role in the transition between them. 

Christine Wojtowich left us in the fall of 2019 for a new job in Civil and Environmental Engineering at Penn State. She spent a year in our department and played a big role in our graduate program administration. 

Hyungsuk Tak and Jung In Kim welcomed their first daughter, Hayne Tak, in December 2019.

Kyongwon Kim, PhD candidate in Statistics, announced the birth of his baby boy Daniel Woojin Kim in the spring of 2020.

2018/2019 PhD Graduates

Our list of Statistics alumni dates back to the 1960s! See who graduated from Statistics, read our graduate highlights, and learn about donating on our alumni page.

Gregory Bopp, PhD

Thesis Title: Statistical Modeling of Extreme Values with Applications in Climatology
Advisor: Benjamin Shaby
First Job: Technical Staff, MIT Lincoln Laboratory

Elena Hadjicosta, PhD
Thesis Title: Integral Transform Methods in Goodness-of-Fit Testing
Advisor: Donald Richards
First Job: Postdoctoral Fellow, University College London

Changcheng Li, PhD
Thesis Title: Topics in High-dimensional Statistical Inference
Advisor: Runze LI
First Job: Postdoctoral Scholar, Penn State

Wanjun Liu, PhD
Thesis Title: New Statistical Tools for High-dimensional Data Modeling
Advisor: Runze Li
First Job: Data Scientist, LinkedIn

Ardalan Mirshani, PhD
Thesis Title: Regularization Methods In Functional Data Analysis
Advisor: Matthew Reimherr
First Job: Principle Scientific Computing Consultant, Novartis

Jaewoo Park, PhD
Thesis Title: Computational Methods For Models With Intractable Normalizing Functions
Advisor: Murali Haran
First Job: Assistant Professor, Yonsei University

Kevin Quinlan, PhD
Thesis Title: Advances in Design of Computer Experiments
Advisor: Dennis K. Lin
First Job: Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Frank Shen, PhD
Thesis Title: Statistical Analysis Of Chromosome Conformation Data And Other Omic Data
Advisor: Qunhua Li and Naomi Altman
First Job: Biostatistician, Bristol-Myers Squibb

Ching-Chi Yang, PhD
Thesis Title: Dimensional Analysis for Response Surface Methodology
Advisor: Dennis K. Lin
First Job: Assistant Professor, University of Memphis

Cheng You, PhD
Thesis Title: Air Quality and Health Effects: Systematic Investigation
Advisor: Dennis K. Lin
First Job: Wells Fargo Bank

Ling Zhang, PhD
Thesis Title: Procedures for Feature Screening and Interaction Identification in High-dimensional Data Modelling
Advisor: Runze Li
First Job: Data Scientist, Wells Fargo Bank

Ge Zhao, PhD
Thesis Title: Semiparametric Dimension Reduction Model And Applications
Advisor: Yanyuan Ma
First Job: Assistant Professor, Portland State University

2018/2019 MAS Graduates

Yu Chen
Siyang Hao
Thomas Kent
Rui Liang
Chang Liao
Yafei Lv
Carlo Mazzoleni
Yuxia Ouyang
Sina Sanei
Fangyuan Wang
Mingzhang Yan
Ke Yang
Hui Zheng

2018/2019 Undergraduates

Alastair Wilson
Alexa Maxwell
Angela Marx
Beckett Cromer
Binti Mohd Hashim

Caroline Vallotton
Chace Brokaw
Chan Hoi Lee
Christopher Tam
Chuzhu You
Connor McKeon
Dan Xiao
Daniel Laplante
Donghyug Lee
Elizabeth McConlogue
Emily Valenci
Gregory Giliberti
Guanhong Wang
Gwen Wyatt
Haoyuan Meng
Ilsa Hess
Jay Yang
Jiajun Gao
Jiali Liu
John Rutherford
Joseph McDonald
Joshua Brodie
Kevin Hansan
Liangyu Zhang
Lisa Piasecki
Luc Lallement
Lucas Humphrey
Matthew Cianciulli
Meagan Milligan
Mei Ying Tan
Melissa Dewoody
Michael Heigh
Michael Miller
Minjie Yue
Nur Farisha Athirah
Rong Feng Chai
Ruocong Sun
Ryan Voyack
Samuel Messer
Sarah Baisley
Sarah Hauryski
Sarah Wiener
Siao Qi Gan
Sifan Huang
Stephen Li
Tao Huang
Thomas Higgins
Tre Brown
Xinyu Wang
Yasmin Borhan
Yijing Han
Yu Cui
Yu Hang Chong
Yue Liu
Yufeng Xue
Yuxin Zhang
Zachary Moser
Zachary Wenning
Zhenyu Tian
Zhuangbo Xu
Zijian Zhang


Statisical Modeling Data Sciences
Nicholas Cianci
Jiaan Wan
Wentao Yan

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Editors: Alice Chersoni, Sakshi Kukreja, and Murali Haran
Design and Development: Mike Fleck and Bob Carey






If you have any corrections or additions for this issue, or items for the next newsletter (slated for Fall 2020), please email Alice Chersoni


STATNEWS is published by PENN STATE DEPARTMENT OF STATISTICS, 326 Thomas Building, University Park, PA 16802–2111. This publication is available in alternative media on request. The Pennsylvania State University is committed to the policy that all persons shall have equal access to programs, facilities, admission, and employment without regard to personal characteristics not related to ability, performance, or qualifications as determined by University policy or by state or federal authorities. It is the policy of the University to maintain an academic and work environment free of discrimination, including harassment. The Pennsylvania State University prohibits discrimination and harassment against any person because of age, ancestry, color, disability or handicap, national origin, race, religious creed, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, or veteran status. Discrimination or harassment against faculty, staff, or students will not be tolerated at The Pennsylvania State University. Direct all inquiries regarding the nondiscrimination policy to the Affirmative Action Director, The Pennsylvania State University, 328 Boucke Building, University Park, PA 16802-5901; Tel 814-865-4700/V, 814-863- 1150/TTY. Produced by the Penn State Department of Statistics.

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