It’s now late July, the time of year when I always find myself wondering, “How is it already late July?!”

It’s also the time of year when the fall semester no longer seems like some far-off, abstract idea.  After the Joint Statistical Meetings in Chicago next week, there will be just over two weeks before the first day of class.  Also this year, Penn State has implemented sweeping changes to the logistics underlying the scheduling process that have made the approach of the fall semester seem anything but abstract.  It looks like we’ll be ready, mostly thanks to our fantastic staff members, but this process certainly has produced some exciting moments this summer!

I have to thank Kathy Smith and Murali Haran for their help with this issue of the newsletter. It’s shorter than the previous one, which revived the newsletter after a long period of dormancy.  But there are still plenty of items to cover, starting with the upcoming Joint Statistical Meetings.  For those of you who will be in Chicago, below I will highlight several of the events that will take place—including a reception on Tuesday evening from 5:30 to 7:30—along with a spreadsheet listing all of the Penn State-related events.

Also in this issue, I will include a couple news items about alumni of our department.  I hope that a few of you will send me updates about interesting news items that we can include in future issues of the newsletter.

Perhaps I’ll see some of you in Chicago.  I hope you’ll stop and say hello if you run into me there!  In the meantime, I’ll get back to planning for the coming fall semester and wondering where the summer has gone.

David Hunter, Department Head


This year’s Joint Statistical Meetings are in Chicago from July 30 to August 4.  For those who will be attending, we have compiled a spreadsheet of events whose participants include someone currently from Penn State.  A few of these, listed at the top of the spreadsheet as “featured” events, are described below.

If you didn’t happen to receive an email invitation to the Penn State Alumni reception (see below) or an email link to this newsletter, we’d love to know how to email you!  You are welcome to send your contact information to or fill out the online form provided by the Eberly College of Science.

Penn State Alumni Reception
(Tuesday 5:30pm to 7:30pm, Hilton-Joliet)

This is just what it sounds like:  A reception where we get to eat and drink while we catch up with old friends and meet new ones.  We have tried to reach as many of our current and former students and current faculty as possible, along with all interested Penn State College of Science alumni in the Chicago area and a few folks from Minitab in State College as well! There is a web signup for those who know they’ll plan to attend.  However, it is not mandatory to sign up in advance. If you’re coming to Chicago for JSM, we hope to see you there!

ASA Awards Celebration and Editor Appreciation
(Sunday 6:30pm to 7:30pm, Convention Center W183b)

Among the awardees, Dennis Lin will receive the 2016 Statistics in Physical Engineering Sciences (SPES) Award for his joint work “Mixture design and analysis of computer experiments for refinery reactor optimization” with the Industrial Statistics Group in Sasol Group Technology.

Memorial Session for Bruce Lindsay
(Monday 2:00pm to 3:50pm, Convention Center W180)

As many of you know, we lost a great friend and colleague in 2015.  When Bruce passed away last May, we had already missed the deadline to submit a late-breaking memorial session for the 2015 JSM, so we did it in 2016 instead.  Penn State faculty members Lingzhou Xue and David Hunter are the organizer and chair, respectively, and the distinguished speakers will be Kathryn Roeder, Geoff McLachlan, Annie Qu, and Nancy Reid.

In addition, our department has decided to honor Bruce’s memory by setting up multiple positions called Bruce Lindsay Visiting Assistant Professorships.  These positions will involve teaching a reduced load of courses while also working with a specific faculty mentor or mentors.  We will endow a fund in Bruce’s name to support these positions, which will also include funds for travel support.  Anyone wishing to support this endowment is welcome to send a check, made out to Pennsylvania State University with Bruce Lindsay Fund on the subject line, to:

David Hunter, Head
Department of Statistics
326 Thomas Building
University Park, PA 16802

ASA President’s address and Founders and Fellows Recognition
(Tuesday 8:00pm to 9:30pm, Hilton International Ballroom)

This year’s presidential address will be delivered by ASA president Jessica Utts, who is a Penn State graduate.  In addition to speaking on “Appreciating Statistics,” Jessica will congratulate three new ASA fellows from Penn State’s faculty (among other new ASA fellows, of course):  Francesca Chiaromonte, Wayne DeSarbo, and Murali Haran.  Francesca and Murali are both in the Statistics Department—and coincidentally both earned their PhDs from the University of Minnesota—and Wayne is in the Marketing Department.

SLDS Student Paper Awards Session
(Tuesday 10:30am to 12:20pm, Convention Center W183c)

The Section on Statistical Learning and Data Science of the International Chinese Statistical Association has awarded a best student paper prize to Kevin Lee (with co-authors Lingzhou Xue and David Hunter) for his paper entitled “Model-Based Clustering for Large-Scale Dynamic Networks”.

GSS/SSS/SRMS Student Paper Awards Session
(Wednesday 8:30am to 10:20am, Convention Center W187b)

The ASA Government Statistics Section, Social Statistics Section, and Survey Research Methods Section have awarded a best student paper prize to Joshua Snoke (with co-authors Beata Nowok, Gillian Raab, Aleksandra Slavkovic, and Chris Dibben) for his paper entitled “General and Specific Utility Measures for Synthetic Data”.

Congratulations to Dennis, Jessica, Francesca, Wayne, Murali, Kevin, and Joshua!


Gina Reed

Gina is an alumna of our Master of Arts program who currently teaches at the University of North Georgia.  Recently, she won both of the UNG awards known as Academic Engagement Awards:  In 2014, she won the Best Practices in Service Learning Award, given for “exemplary integration of academic service-learning in courses.”  Then, in 2015, she won the Scholarship of Engagement Award for “exemplifying the scholarship of engagement and demonstrating through her work that higher education can represent promise for the advancement of both intellectual and civic life.”  And as if that weren’t enough, she also recently won two UNG Presidential Awards: An Innovation Award in 2013 and a Summer Scholars Award in 2015.

Congratulations, Gina!

Jemar Bather

Jemar graduated from Penn State with a Bachelor of Science degree (biostatistics option) in 2014.  In a recent email, he writes:

“After graduating, I started working as a Data Engineer for the Center for Educational Innovation. In my role, I support over 30 schools in New York City, Buffalo, and New Jersey with utilizing assessment data to inform instruction. Also, I perform ad-hoc calculations used to verify teacher and principal evaluation scores and salary disbursements. More recently, I have been on a project to assist in creating a charter school in Central Harlem. With this outlet, I have created an internship for high school students to aid in the community outreach of the project, where they will create relevant surveys, analyze the data, and develop reports to be presented to my team.”

Jemar attached several photos to his email, including this one (below) of the students in the internship.  Thanks for the update, Jemar—and good luck with your efforts!

If you have news that you’d like to share, please email it to  We may only be able to use a subset of the emails we get in future newsletters due to space constraints, but we’re always happy to hear from you!



Named Lectures in 2016

The Clifford Clogg Memorial Lectures and the first-ever Marker Lectures in Statistical Science have come and gone.  Our former colleague Mark Handcock (below left) delivered the Clogg Lectures in March, and Bin Yu from the University of California, Berkeley (below right) gave the Marker Lectures.



The 2016 Electronic Conference on Teaching Statistics (eCOTS) took place in May.  Penn State had a large hand in its success, with assistant professor Kari Lock Morgan chairing the organizing committee and nearly all of the technical support work being handled by our staff members, particularly Kathy Smith, Bob Carey, and Lorey Burghard.  Dennis Pearl, who directs the Consortium for the Advancement of Undergraduate Statistics Education (, was also a member of the organizing committee, and CAUSE hosted the conference.  All electronic materials that were part of the conference (e.g., Michael Jordan’s keynote talk on data science among many others) are publicly available online.

DataFestTM 2016

DataFestTM gives teams of undergraduates roughly 48 hours to analyze large datasets to address broad questions of interest.  This year’s datasets, courtesy of TicketMaster, consisted of a spreadsheet of ticket purchases with 1.7 million rows with 44 variables and another on user behavior with 4.2 million rows and 46 variables.  There was also a spreadsheet of advertisement and keyword performance with 1.5 million cases and 28 variables.  Themes that students were encouraged to explore included pricing optimization (are there factors that can be used to adjust ticket prices in different venues?), customer segmentation (how do you identify the “true fans”?), and advertising optimization (can you generate ad keywords given a set of bid prices and budgets?)

As she did in 2015, Stefanie Austin put in an enormous amount of work organizing our DataFest. Among many, many things, Stefanie maintained a Twitter feed where you can check out the results of our contest and see photos.

Notes on Undergraduate Education

Our department has made a strong investment in undergraduate education in recent years. Here are some highlights: 

  • Administration: Matt Beckman took over from Murali Haran in the spring of 2016 as the chair of undergraduate studies, Scott Roths is our coordinator for undergraduate advising, and Karen Jervis is our new undergraduate adviser. We continue to have several faculty in the department who are also advising undergraduates.
  • Research: Matt Beckman, Kari Lock Morgan, and Dennis Pearl continue to have active research programs on undergraduate statistics education, making Penn State Statistics a leading center for statistics education among statistics departments in the country. Penn State hosted the very well attended Electronic Conference on Teaching Statistics (E-COTS) in May 2016. Kari Lock Morgan was the chair of the organizing committee which included Dennis Pearl.
  • Undergraduate research: more undergraduates are now gaining valuable research experience with our faculty. Dennis Pearl mentored two undergraduates with funds from the Math Biosciences Institute (MBI). This summer Murali Haran mentored, with the help of PhD students Yawen Guan and Ben Lee, 8 undergraduates who were supported on NSF grants for sustainable climate risk management and statistical methods for studying ice sheets. In addition, Ephraim Hanks, Dave Hunter, Ben Shaby, Eric Feigelson (primary appointment in Astronomy), Qunhua Li, Matt Beckman, Andy Wiesner, Le Bao and Lingzhou Xue have also been involved in advising undergraduate researchers on a wide array of research problems. Relatively few students had been involved in undergraduate research in the past; we are hoping to continue to increase these numbers in the near future. This is also part of a college-wide push to increase  research experiences for undergraduates.
  • Our undergraduate population numbers continue to grow quickly, with more and more students transferring into our major and often choosing to double major or minor in statistics. Our New Students Orientation (NSO) activities saw a 47% increase in number of participating students.

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