Departmental History

The Department of Statistics was formed in 1962 as the Graduate Institute of Statistics with the mandate of providing statistical research, consulting, and instruction for Texas A&M University. The Department was authorized from its inception to grant MS and PhD degrees. Prior to 1962, a number of different departments provided the few statistics courses taught at the undergraduate and graduate level. H.O. Hartley was the Institute’s first Director and by the fall of 1964 the department consisted of a faculty of five with twelve graduate students.

The Department resided in several locations prior to its moving to the Olin E. Teague Building in 1966. The construction of this building was greatly assisted by an NSF Center for Excellence grant obtained by Professor Hartley and others. The university computing center also resided in the Teague Building. The rapid expansion of the university during the 1970s and subsequent demands for space by the computing center resulted in the Department moving to its current location on the fourth floor of the John R. Blocker Building in 1981. In the fall of 2004, the department acquired additional office space on the fifth floor of the Blocker Building.

The Graduate Institute of Statistics was included in 1966 as a member of the newly formed College of Science and in 1984 acquired its current name, the Department of Statistics. In 1977, Professor Hartley retired and was succeeded by William B. Smith. By the early 1980’s the Department had grown to 18 faculty members with 40-50 graduate students. The next two department heads were Raymond J. Carroll appointed in 1986 and H. Joseph Newton in 1990. The faculty by this time had grown to 25 members with 60-65 graduate students. Along with this increase in the size of the faculty and graduate student population was a concurrent increase in research productivity and funded research. Another indicator of the university’s high regard for the department was the designation of Manny Parzen, Raymond J. Carroll, Cliff Spiegelman and Bani Mallick as Distinguished Professors. There are more than 75 faculty members currently holding the title of Distinguished Professor at Texas A&M University.

In 1998, James Calvin was appointed to head the Department which at that time consisted of 26 faculty members with 60-65 graduate students. The department celebrated its 40th anniversary with a two-day conference in October, 2002. The conference reflected the wide diversity in research interests of its faculty. The topics of the sessions were mixed linear models, generalized linear models, bioinformatics, time series, and smoothing. In May of 2013, the Department celebrated its 50th anniversary and statisticians from all over the world (as far as Nigeria) returned to Aggieland to celebrate with current faculty, staff and students in this spectacular event.

The Department from its inception has been substantially involved in collaborative research. Professor Hartley and the faculty had research grants and contracts from ONR, NASA, Army Research Office, and National Center for Toxicological Research. For over twenty years funding for statistical consulting was provided by the Texas Agricultural Experiment Station. The Department was actively involved in the development of the Center for Environmental and Rural Health, an NIEHS funded research center. Also, several faculty members greatly assisted in obtaining the competitive renewal of Texas A&M University’s EPA funded Superfund Basic Research Program. In 2001, Professor Carroll received a grant from NCI to establish a two-year training program in Bioinformatics. This grant was renewed through 2011. Professor Cliff Spiegelman’s collaborations with the Texas Transportation Institute has resulted in both faculty and graduate student support over a number of years.

The department has established four major lecture and awards series. The H. O. Hartley Memorial Lecture series was established in 1988 to honor the memory of Herman Otto Hartley. The speakers (1988-2014) were Peter J. Diggle, Bradley Efron, E.J. Hannan, Sir David R. Cox, Wayne Fuller, Adrian Raftery, Peter Hall, Terry Speed, James Berger, Edward I. George, Regina Liu and David Dunson. The Parzen Prize for Statistical Innovation was established in 1994. The awardees (1994-2014) were Grace Wahba, Donald P. Rubin, Bradley Efron, C. R. Rao, David R. Brillinger, Jerome H. Friedman, Alan E. Gelfand, Nancy Reid and Marvin Zelen, Roger Koenker, Adrian Raftery and Trevor Hastie. The third lectureship, the Ronald R. Hocking Lecture Series, was established in 2002 to recognize exceptional contributions to the field of linear models and their generalizations. Past speakers include Ronald Hocking, David Harville, Dallas Johnson, Ramon Littell, Michael Kutner, Tim Hesterberg, Brian Marx, Oliver Schabenberger, John Sall, Garrett Fitzmaurice, and Goutam Chakraborty. In 2009 the fourth award and lecture series, the Raymond J. Carroll Young Investigator
Award, was inaugurated. This award is bestowed in alternate years on a junior investigator who has made outstanding contributions in the area of statistics. Past recipients include Samuel Kou, Marc Suchard, and Tyler J. VanderWeele. All four of these lecture/award series have provided our graduate students with the opportunity to interact with the pioneers in the statistics profession.

With the appointment of Simon Sheather as Department Head (March 2005-February 2014) , the department has made new initiatives in the area of online teaching. The department received approval for a Distance Learning MS in Applied Statistics in 2006 and in 2009 the first online master’s degree was awarded to Captain Jeromie Shoulders of the United States Air Force.

The Department also presents several prestigious internal awards to outstanding former and current students. Among these is the Margaret Sheather Memorial Award in Statistics, which was awarded from 2010-2014 and was presented annually to the student(s) with the most outstanding master’s project(s). In
2015 this award was re-established as the Margaret Sheather Memorial Award in Analytics and in the future it will be awarded to the MS Analytics student(s) with the most outstanding capstone project(s). The Hartley Award is presented annually to a former student for distinguished service to the discipline of statistics. The
William S. Connor Award is presented annually to the student whom the faculty deems most outstanding amongst those students passing the preliminary examination during the current year. A description of funds raised to support these awards, as well as the lecture series above, is provided in Appendix G.

In 2012, members of the Department formed Texas A&M Statistical Services, LP, an external consulting center that provides 99% of its profit to Texas A&M University.  Drs. Simon Sheather and Edward Jones serve as President and Executive Vice President of this limited partnership.

The Department does not currently offer an undergraduate degree in statistics.  However, undergraduates can obtain a concentration in statistics, and the Department developed, in conjunction with the Mathematics Department, a statistics option within the BS degree in Applied Mathematical Sciences.  The Department also offers a minor in statistics. The Department’s undergraduate course offering has grown to over ten courses with approximately 5,700 undergraduates enrolled per academic year. Besides the courses offered to its MS and PhD students, the graduate service courses have an enrollment of over 1,500 students per academic year.

The Department’s students frequently also attract external awards. Notable among these are the success of our graduate students in recent Capital One Statistical Modeling Competitions. The Department fielded the winning team and a finalist team in 2012, another finalist team in 2013, and the winning and a finalist team in 2014.

For many years, the Department hosted a Statistics Advanced Placement Summer Institute on-campus for high school mathematics teachers, and, thanks to the dedication of our Emeritus Professor James Matis, will begin doing so again this summer. This institute provides an opportunity for the Department to interact with AP statistics teachers, and it is our hope that this interaction will serve as a mechanism for advertising the Department’s role in undergraduate statistics education to high school students across the state.

Valen Johnson was appointed as Department Head on March 1, 2014. He will continue the department’s upward trajectory as one of nation’s premier statistics programs. He is confident that, with quality faculty hires, effective junior faculty mentoring, and the continued success and support of the online learning and analytics programs, the department can become one of the top 10 public programs nationwide by 2020.

From its inception, the Department has grown to a faculty of  29 tenure/tenure-track faculty and 7 lecturers. There are more than 50 graduate students seeking MS and PhD degrees on campus. The Online Master’s program currently lists more than 320 graduate students seeking MS (Statistics) as well as MS (Analytics) degrees. The Department has awarded over 600 MS and over 350 PhD degrees.