UD statistics students spend summer getting real world experience

November 12, 2013 under CANR News

Three University of Delaware students studying statistics spent the summer interning with financial and medical research institutions, gaining invaluable real world experience and, for some, job offers.

Tom Ilvento, professor in the Department of Applied Economics and Statistics (APEC) in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR), said that internship opportunities are important for every student but especially for statistics majors, as it “opens the students’ eyes to a bigger vision of what their field is about and what they can do and what kind of skills they really have.

“We preach a lot that as a stat major, you’re different, you have a lot of skills. But I don’t know that they appreciate it until they get into a setting where they have to start using it.”

Using their skills were seniors Heather Bowman and Zachary Baine, who completed internships with financial institutions, and Qiuming (Mark) He, who worked with a medical research organization.

Ilvento said he was pleased with the students’ work over the summer, pointing out that they went out on their own and actively sought out the internship opportunities and then excelled in their respective positions.

“I was impressed with all three finding positions and I was really happy for the experience they had. They were all involved in real world problems in groups, and they were participating members, so these weren’t internships where they went and got the coffee — they really got involved and were able to do things and contribute to their teams.”

The undergraduate internship program in statistics is not as developed as the statistics master of science internship program, which has up to 17 students each class in year-long internships with local companies such as DuPont, Conde Nast, Chase, Bank of America, and PNC Bank. However, Ilvento noted that APEC would like to head that way with undergraduate internships and this past summer was a great start in that direction.  “Ultimately, we would like to see more undergraduate statistics majors intern each year,” he said.

Heather Bowman undergraduate statistics majorHeather Bowman

Bowman spent her summer interning at Chase Bank in Wilmington, working with a marketing manager on a partner credit card for the InterContinental Hotels Group (IHG), a brand that owns facilities such as the Holiday Inn.

“Every week I would do acquisitions reports — looking at how many new card members we had from in a hotel and how many we got from various sites or emails — and then I would present that on a phone call to our partner,” said Bowman.

She also explained that she looked at the net promoter score, which told her how pleased current card members were with their card and the reasons why, from which she could report on whether changes the credit card company had made recently were making card members more or less happy.

Bowman said that having an analytical background from her undergraduate courses at UD helped her as she applied what she learned in the classroom to the world of work. “Having the analytical background and thinking came in handy when I looked at the data and tried to figure out what to do with a gigantic spreadsheet and how to make sense of the numbers.”

Another thing that helped was her knowledge of Statistical Analysis Software (SAS), a program that she learned how to use in class. “I took a master’s level statistics class that taught SAS and that’s something that a lot of companies like to see, so I thought that helped because I actually used that this summer at Chase to work on a couple of reports.”

Zachary Baine Undergraduate statistics majorZachary Baine

Baine interned at American Express in New York City. He explained that his main project was researching card member data, trying to find certain trends and looking at metrics. “I was analyzing those metrics and trying to figure out how we could predict them and use the information to try to generate more revenue growth.”

Baine said that the people at American Express were hands-off, trusting that he would get his work done, which he did thanks to the foundation he gained in UD’s statistics program.

“Some statistics classes for regression analysis really helped me and I used that often,” said Baine.

He added that the computer science and programming classes that he took as a requirement for his statistics major helped him understand some of the coding language.

“The statistics courses built a foundation for me so that I could stare at all this data and try to figure out what was going on.”

As for his favorite part of the internship, Baine said that was easy: the end when he was given a job offer.

“I was lucky enough to receive a job offer and for the interns that did get a job offer, they brought us all up to the top floor, the CEO’s floor, with this luxurious conference room,” he said. “They put us all in there and had the CEO of the company come in and congratulated us, so that was a good way to end the internship and left the most lasting impression on me.”

Qiuming (Mark) He undergraduate statistics majorQiuming (Mark) He 

He spent the summer working at the Stowers Institute for Medical Research in Kansas City, Mo.

The facility had many individual labs, but He explained that he worked for the core facility for bioinformatics, helping to process data and provide consultation for scientists.

“They came to us if they had any questions,” He said. “Usually they could handle their data by themselves but if they had some difficulty, they came to us and we figured it out or gave them advice on how to approach the data.”

He worked with a program called R, software with which he had no previous experience prior to the internship. “I heard the name R but I never touched it and then in the first two months, I was doing some tasks and practicing, and in the last month I did my project just using the R software.”

He said that all of the skills learned in the statistics program at UD came in handy, as he had experience programming in other languages and only had to adjust to the syntax changes. He also said that the skills he learned at UD, such as critical thinking and ways to approach data, helped him out, as well.

As for statistics in general, He said that he loves how the practice allows him to help people. “We can really talk to people and see what they want and then we have the data as the backup. We can come up with the result and then we have to back that up so it’s really solid, and I like the feeling of making people happy when they see what they think is actually statistically significant. I really like seeing that they meet their expectations.”

Article by Adam Thomas

Photos by Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.

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Statistics internships form win-win partnerships

December 13, 2011 under CANR News

The graduate internship program in the M.S. in statistics in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources sends students every year into leading companies to work, learn and grow in their field. Although the internship is optional, almost all the program’s students take advantage of the opportunity.

The DuPont Company is the longest-standing corporate participant in the statistics internship program and sponsors the most interns. DuPont has been with the program since 2001 and currently hosts seven interns at two locations. Other participants are Chase, ING, Barclays, Bank of America, AstraZeneca and Condé Nast, which has a more than eight year relationship with the program.

A year-long opportunity brings meaningful benefits

Statistics students spend a year in their internship positions. Longer than the more typical summer internship, the year-long arrangement gives students more opportunity to utilize what they are learning and more time to develop and grow in the job. Companies love it because they make the most of the resources they spend on training and get longer access to their already-trained interns.

The host companies have real work to do and real needs to fill when they hire a UD statistics intern. They often comment on how well prepared the interns are, and, in fact, they have had one year of core graduate study that prepares them for the often complex work they will face as interns.

Tom Ilvento, professor and graduate director and coordinator of the program, stresses that the program works hard to ensure that the interns’ experience is meaningful. “We want to place students in a work environment where they have the ability to apply the skills they learn in their courses. The goal is for the students to provide leadership in at least one project during the internship.” In turn, the students are required to report on their activities via presentations and papers.

An opportunity for teamwork

Qian Li, currently an intern at the DuPont Experimental Station, is excited about the real experience she is gaining in industry. “I like the chance to work with and talk to professional people. Both statisticians and biologists. They are very knowledgeable and very anxious to teach us interns the things we will need in our professional lives,” she says.

Lu Su, interning at DuPont’s Stein-Haskell Lab in Newark, echoes her fellow student’s thoughts. When asked about the best aspects of the internship, she quickly replies, “Teamwork.” She says she appreciates the opportunity to work with a multifaceted team of statisticians, biologists and fellow interns, each of whom brings his or her own special strengths and skills to the project. She adds, “We have the opportunity to put our skills to use on real data and see how it all works in reality.”

Credibility in the workplace

The market for individuals with graduate degrees in statistics is excellent, points out Ilvento, and all of the program’s graduates find work in the field. He credits the fact that they each already have a year’s work experience on their resumes with part of the success. “Work experience is crucial in the job search today,” he notes, “and these students have worked with real companies on real problems.”

Joe Scocas interned at DuPont Crop Protection Products as a master’s student in statistics and was later hired as a statistician by the company. Thinking back on his internship experience, he comments, “Even though I had previous work experience the internship was beneficial for me since it gave me the opportunity to participate in the working environment of my chosen profession. Scocas continues, “My internship gave me a meaningful frame of reference to better understand the new statistical concepts I studied in class. Working in an environment like DuPont Crop Protection enables you to see how ideas work together and help us understand a more complex situation.”

Scocas has found the work at DuPont Crop Protection Products personally rewarding. “We are dedicated to discovering products that can directly impact the world’s food supply, both in terms of availability and affordability,” he says. “DuPont statisticians and, in turn, the interns from the University of Delaware work on projects and with scientists from all over the world, providing them with a memorable experience that ultimately can help define their professional goals and further their career.”

Scocas now supervises UD interns at DuPont. “I believe that my experience as a former intern allows me to understand the needs and strengths of current students. I can help them advance their learning and understanding of the contribution statistics provides to research and development, as well as increase the benefit that DuPont receives from this relationship.”

UD’s Department of Food and Resource Economics benefits from the internships as well. The internships help them build linkages with industry. Some of the individuals who began as internship program contacts at partner companies have become adjunct instructors in the UD statistics program, bringing their current, real-world knowledge into the classroom. Plus, the contacts help the department get a better understanding of what companies need employees to know and what the problems in today’s work world are.

“The internship program gives us a finger on the pulse of what working statisticians are currently doing in very applied settings,” says Ilvento. “It is very easy to be theoretical at the University,” he continues, “but the world is practical.”

By Tara White Kee

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2011 issue of Professional Education News.

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Oct. 19: Lies and Statistics

October 7, 2011 under CANR News, Events

University of Delaware Prof. Joel Best will speak about his book, Damned Lies and Statistics: Untangling Numbers From the Media, Politicians, and Activists on Wednesday, Oct. 19, at 3:30 p.m., in Room 132 Townsend Hall. A reception will follow.

According to the University of California Press, “In this book Best shows us exactly how and why bad statistics emerge, spread, and come to shape policy debates. He recommends specific ways to detect bad statistics, and shows how to think more critically about ‘stat wars,’ or disputes over social statistics among various experts.”

Best is a professor in the Department of Sociology and Criminal Justice at UD. He has written extensively about the sociology of social problems.  In addition toDamned Lies and Statistics and its sequels, his books include Threatened ChildrenRandom Violence,Flavor of the Month, and two books published earlier this year – Everyone’s a Winner, and The Stupidity Epidemic.

He is a past president of the Society for the Study of Social Problems and the Midwest Sociological Society, the former editor of Social Problems, and the chief editor of the online journal Sociology Compass.  He has spoken about dubious statistics at campuses across the country, and before audiences of judges, journalists and legislators.

The event is co-sponsored by the Northeast Center for Risk Management Education, the UD Department of Food and Resource Economics and the UD College of Agriculture and Natural Resources.

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StatLab available to provide help with statistical analysis

September 23, 2011 under CANR News

The Department of Food and Resource Economics (FREC) in the University of Delaware’s College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR) has announced the opening of the Statistical Laboratory (StatLab) for the fall semester.

StatLab provides statistical consulting services to graduate students, faculty, staff and researchers throughout the University, as well as non-university agencies and companies. It will be open Mondays from 1-5 p.m. and Tuesdays from 11 a.m.-5 p.m. in room 201 or 214 Townsend Hall.

The laboratory is staffed with a director and an experienced graduate student as well as an advisory committee, consisting of University statisticians, research methodologists from various disciplines and subject matter specialists from industry, to provide additional support.

The goal of the StatLab is to train students of the Statistics Program to interact effectively with investigators from a variety of disciplines, to enhance the quality of experimental and other research at the University by providing high-quality statistical advice and to encourage collaborative research between statisticians and investigators from other disciplines both within and outside UD.

Researchers are strongly encouraged to visit the StatLab prior to collecting their data or attempting to conduct an analysis. Initial consultation lasts one hour maximum and is free for UD personnel. Subsequent consultation will require fees. StateLab reserves the right to charge the client for additional work.

Statistical consultation is available only by appointment. Users are requested to submit a brief written statement of the problem and file a form prior to scheduling an appointment. The form is available online.

To schedule an appointment and to file the forms, visit this website, send email to rejto@udel.edu or send a fax 302-831-6243.

For additional information, contact Lidia Rejto, professor of statistics, Statistics Program, in the Department of Food and Resource Economics, at 302-831-8034, or Maggie Brumit, assistant to the department chair, at 302-831-2511 or mbrumit@udel.edu.

This article was originally published on UDaily.

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