As part of the ASA Biometrics Section initiative, “Developing the Next Generation of Biostatisticians,” graduate students in biostatistics and statistics from the University of Arizona (UA) carried out an outreach project to increase awareness of careers in statistics and promote a college education in statistics among under-represented students in upper-level math classes in southern Arizona high schools.
Based on the ASA’s “This Is Statistics” program, graduate students gave 35-minute presentations focused on careers in statistics, ideal steps to pursue an education in statistics, and personal experiences involving statistics. At the end of each presentation, surveys were administered to gauge how the presentation influenced students to pursue statistics in the future.
The UA graduate students visited 21 classes during the 2015–2016 academic year, including statistics, AP Statistics, pre-calculus, calculus, and AP Calculus. Of the 455 students present during classroom visits, the majority (287, 63%) were Hispanic or Native American. Before the presentation, most of the under-represented students were not interested in continuing an education in statistics after high school (63%), with 30% undecided and 7% interested. After the presentation, the percentage of Hispanic and American Indian students who were interested in continuing their statistics education increased to 41%, with 43% undecided and 16% not interested.
Below are a few representative open-ended responses to how the presentation changed the students’ perception of statistics:
- “It made me realize that there are a lot of job opportunities in statistics and that it is a career path that is highly in demand and it may be worth pursuing.”
- “This presentation changed the way I viewed statistics in a very positive way. Before, I thought it was boring and not relevant; however, when you look at it, you actually do a lot more and have fun and make a difference doing it.”
- “Like it was explained in the presentation, stats isn’t just gathering and calculating data. It has a big impact on our everyday lives and is around us in places we haven’t noticed.”
- “After this presentation, I am strongly considering a career involving statistics.”
Teachers and students were excited to hear about the multitude of opportunities the field of statistics provides. Based on student responses, simply having graduate student statisticians relay the good news about statistics may be enough to kick start some students’ journeys down a previously unconsidered career path. At the very least, the presenters effectively conveyed both the diversity of work in which statisticians participate and the path a student needs to start down to pursue a career as a statistician.