The statistics are hard to ignore.
“Statistician” is among the fastest growing occupations in the country — with a projected growth of 33 percent over the next decade — and the job commands a significant salary, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.
Meanwhile, University of Lynchburg students have been expressing an increased interest in statistics.
These trends led University of Lynchburg to launch the data science and statistics major this fall.
“The growing demand for big data and statistics is huge,” Dr. William Lokar, dean of the School of Sciences, said. “Our mathematics department and enrollment has had numerous inquiries about statistics and we felt that we could rely on a strong mathematical department to build out this program.”
Dr. Bahaeddine Taoufik joined the Lynchburg faculty this fall to develop the program. “He will build out the statistics curriculum, however, the program will remain in the Department of Mathematics,” Dr. Lokar said.
Faculty from other departments will contribute as well, Dr. Lokar added. “We will continue to develop the data science piece of this program by relying on data mining expertise with Dr. Zakaria Kurdi in computer science as well as the bioinformatics expertise of Dr. Samrat Thapa in chemistry.”
The Tunisia-born Dr. Taoufik did his undergraduate work in mathematics in France, but after taking some statistics courses, his direction and his geography changed. “I liked it and started a master’s in statistics [in France] and then came to the U.S. and did my PhD from Penn State,” he said.
“When I took statistics, I thought it was helpful to see the practical aspects. It gives answers to real-world situations. I wanted to do math, but when I discovered statistics it was really interesting. It changed my life.”
The 39-hour data science and statistics major includes both math and statistics courses. As described by the math department, the major “explores the science of learning from data. Coursework will cover the collection, analysis, and interpretation of data, as well as the effective communications and presentation of these results.”
Dr. Taoufik is not only recruiting data science and statistics majors, he’s also encouraging students from a variety of degree programs to take classes in the discipline. After all, the study of data science and statistics is applicable to numerous career fields, among them business, social science, biology, and medicine.
“All across majors, but especially business and biology,” he said. “The need of statistics is really exponential right now.”
This fall, Dr. Taoufik is team-teaching a biostatistics class with Tonya Price, instructor of health promotion, for the master of public health program. “It’s been really positive for the students,” Price said. “They’ve gotten a good hold of biostatistics, but specifically how it’s used in public health, which is different from how it’s used in medicine.”
Price said Dr. Taoufik, the lead teacher, is “very good at giving explanations and examples, and encouraging the students, because statistics can be very difficult. He does a good job at trying to dispel their fears.”
According to Dr. Taoufik, “few universities have data science majors” and the fact that Lynchburg is developing one shows “good vision.” He said, “It will certainly pay off,” and added that the data science and statistics degree will make graduates “more marketable in the real world, able to face all the challenges they can related to big data [and] better equipped to be in the real-world job market.”