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 and Cliff Spiegelman 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.

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 has been 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 three major lecture series. The H. O. Hartley Memorial Lecture series was established in 1988 to honor the memory of Herman Otto Hartley. The speakers (1988-2010) 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 and Regina Liu. The Parzen Prize for Statistical Innovation was established in 1994. The awardees (1994-2010) 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, and Roger Koenker. 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. The speakers were Ronald Hocking in 2002, David Harville in 2003, Dallas Johnson, Michael Kutner and Ramon Littell in 2007 and Tim Hesterberg, Brian Marx and Oliver Schabenberger in 2009. All three of these lecture series have provided our graduate students with the opportunity to interact with the pioneers in the statistics profession.

Although the Department does not offer an undergraduate degree in statistics, undergraduates can obtain a concentration in statistics. The Department developed, in conjunction with the mathematics department, a statistics option within the BS degree in Applied Mathematical Sciences. An option for non-math majors is to obtain a minor in statistics. The Department’s undergraduate course offering has grown to over ten courses per semester with over 4800 undergraduates enrolled per academic year. Besides the courses offered to its MS and PhD students, the graduate service courses have an enrollment of nearly 1000 per academic year. For the past ten years James Matis organized a Statistics Advanced Placement Summer Institute on campus for high school mathematics teachers. Jamis Perrett (who joined the Statistics faculty in 2008) has taken over the courses and we now offer a campus workshop along with a live-online workshop in the summer. The course is also offered in the fall and spring at the pace of the student. This institute provided an opportunity for the Department to interact AP statistics teachers. It is our hope that the message about the career potential for students in statistics is conveyed by these exceptional teachers to their students.

With the appointment of Simon Sheather in March 2005 as Department Head, 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. From its inception 45 years ago, the Department has grown to a faculty of 34 tenure/tenure-track faculty, 5 lecturers, and nearly 120 graduate students. The Department has awarded nearly 470 MS and over 280 PhD degrees.