George Mason University
George Mason University Mason
George Mason University

Stat students can study abroad this spring

September 3, 2019   /   by Ryley McGinnis

“As we teach statistics courses, we mention the names of historic figures in the field, but to students, they are just anonymous faces. Going out and seeing such places as Rothamsted will give them a better appreciation for where it all began, in particular, the work of Ronald Fisher."

David Holmes

This year, statistics students have a chance to learn about the history of statistics firsthand with a spring break study abroad program to England.

Participating students must take one of the six higher-level statistics courses (STAT 456, 455, 489, 462, 360, or 490) to prepare for the trip. The courses are offered this fall semester and in spring 2020. As many as 20 students can attend the trip that is organized and run by Department of Statistics Assistant Professors Elizabeth Johnson and David Holmes.

Each student will receive a grant that covers 50 percent, up to $1,500, of the cost of the trip, says Allie Wallace, the program manager for the trip in the Global Education Office at Mason.

“Statistics is a fairly young field,” says Johnson. “We want to humanize the field for the students and show them that there are people behind the theories.”

Students will explore the work of people like Ronald Fisher, British statistician and geneticist, Alan Turing, mathematician and computer scientist, and Florence Nightingale, who used her passion for statistics to save lives. The students and their professors will tour museums, visit the places where these statisticians worked, and gain in-depth knowledge about the history of their field.

“As we teach statistics courses, we mention the names of historic figures in the field, but to students, they are just anonymous faces,” says Holmes. “Going out and seeing such places as Rothamsted will give them a better appreciation for where it all began, in particular, the work of Ronald Fisher.“ 

Both Johnson and Holmes were able to plan the trip through the program development grant from the Global Education Office, and they spent a week simulating the trip for students over the summer.

“These (statistical) methods we use are from real people trying to fix problems,” says Johnson. “It really hit me how statistics has affected so many fields when I was there.” Johnson hopes the students will feel the same.

Both the program development grant and the global discovery scholarship, which gives students the discount on their travel, are available to all faculty to apply to create study abroad programs for students in their majors.

Studying abroad and adding supplemental knowledge to your major can give students an upper hand, and it shows they have experience working with intercultural teams, Wallace says. “Studying abroad can give them new perspectives in the classroom, and it can really make them stand out to employers.”

Bletchley Park is a nineteenth-century mansion and estate. During World War II the estate housed the British Government Code and Cypher School (GC&CS). Among its most notable early personnel, the GC&CS team of codebreakers included Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman, Hugh Alexander and Stuart Milner-Barry. (Stock Photo)

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