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Summer Celebrations for the Statisticans

“It’s a great way to learn from the expertise of different individuals in areas that I don’t work in,” said CVLC member and actuary Allie Tomlinson about this year’s 36th Annual Summer Institute of Applied Statistics.

From June 15-17, 2011, participants heard from Professor G. Bruce Schaalje, this year’s invited speaker, about the art and craft of mixed models. Upon the request of the department chair, Del Scott, Schaalje’s wife, Lois, introduced her husband to those in attendance.

“As an art student, I fell in love with a man . . . who loved numbers more than life,” she said. “Bruce approached his education with absolute love and commitment and as a stewardship. [He] is an incredibly hardworking and gifted man.”

Schaalje’s innate passion and intelligence infused his lectures, the first of which addressed the history and use of mixed models. This concept has developed over the past 100 years and has proved to be a vital and useful method for doing statistics.

“The whole 20th century was involved in creating this model,” Schaalje said. “It’s beautiful and helpful, and it’s also mysterious in a lot of ways.”

In addition to instruction on the applications of mixed models, Schaalje paid homage to their creator: R.A. Fisher. Fisher revolutionized the statistics world — and also that of genetics and modern biology — with his work in mixed models.

“This is a guy who’s generating the language of statistics and laying the foundation of biology,” Schaalje said of Fisher. “He introduced ideas which are part of our vocab as statisticians and even as non-statisticians.”

In fact, this year’s event drew in both statisticians and non-statisticians from the ranks of professors, students and working professionals. Brent Williamson from Moxtek, a local technology manufacturing company, came to the Summer Institute to look into graduate programs and also to learn new techniques for his current work.

“Statistics is heavily applied to the manufacturing industry, so any training I can get can apply to the job,” he said. “The stuff they’re going over today may not directly apply, but it will be useful.”

James Sanders, who works for the LDS Church’s CES Correlation Department, came to learn about the techniques of using mixed models.

“We have some longitudinal data, and we’d like to look at new ways here to expand our skill base so we can better serve clients,” he said.

Others came simply to associate and learn from fellow statisticians.

“I’m an old faculty member, and I just came to see if I remember anything I used to teach,” said Dale Richards, an emeritus faculty from the BYU Statistics Department.

By Natalie Rice Posted on