“The move responds to the recent explosion of interest in data analysis, particularly of very large data sets,” said Sally Cockburn, department chair and William R. Kenan Jr. Professor of Mathematics. Cockburn cited a survey conducted by the Conference Board of Mathematical Sciences that determined “the most significant changes in estimated enrollments at four-year mathematical sciences departments were the increases in statistics courses, particularly upper-level statistics courses.” The conference board cited an 88 percent increase in such courses between 2010 and 2015.
“Among other objectives, we want students to understand the power and limits of computing processes; the potential uses of data, analytics, and computer modeling in different fields … and the basics of information fluency, including how to find, organize, and interpret online information.”
Cockburn said Hamilton is also experiencing increased demand from students for statistics and related courses.
“Our statistics courses, with few exceptions, regularly fill to capacity and often have wait lists,” Cockburn said. “Furthermore, as the Digital Hamilton initiative of the College’s recently adopted strategic plan is enacted, we expect demand for these and related new courses to rise significantly.” That plan states: “Among other objectives, we want students to understand the power and limits of computing processes; the potential uses of data, analytics, and computer modeling in different fields … and the basics of information fluency, including how to find, organize, and interpret online information.”
The average total annual enrollment for the department’s existing statistics and probability courses during the past five academic years is 227 students, while annual enrollments in all courses offered by the Mathematics and Statistics Department have averaged 1013 students over the same period.
Many of the statistics courses focus on integrating data and analysis into real-world applications. Cockburn said students have used the tools taught in existing courses to critically analyze data ranging from stop-and-frisk policies of the New York Police Department, drug and alcohol surveys conducted by the New England Small College Athletic Conference, age discrimination lawsuits, the O-ring failure on the Challenger Space Shuttle, and the development of AIDS vaccines.
In addition, Cockburn said, statistics faculty members are continually adapting the department’s offerings to reflect advances in the field, for example incorporating machine learning into upper-level electives and seminars. Several other departments at the College offer students an elementary course in statistics and data analysis focused on applications within their field.