Statistical Excellence

Monday, May 1, 2017

The first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in statistics at the University of Georgia, Stacy Cobb has turned a passion for public health into a career as a biostatistician.

Along the way, Cobb has discovered an expansive capacity for learning, the importance of role models and the crucial role that confidence plays in the formula for academic success.

She returns to the UGA campus Friday for Commencement ceremonies to receive the doctorate she earned in the Franklin College of Arts and Sciences.

As an undergraduate at Savannah State University, C[Stacy Cobb, the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in statistics at the University of Georgia, defended her dissertation in January and has already started her dream job at Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina. She is returning to Athens Friday to receive her degree during Commencement ceremonies.] Stacy Cobb, the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in statistics at the University of Georgia, defended her dissertation in January and has already started her dream job at Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina. She is returning to Athens Friday to receive her degree during Commencement ceremonies. (Photos by Freeman Fotographics)obb was among one of the first cohorts of STEM programs for minorities.

"They really pushed us to stay in the science realm," said Cobb, who said she's loved math since her formative school years but didn't always have the confidence necessary to succeed in a very challenging discipline.

Though gaps remain, Cobb's success shows that developing the interest of young women and minorities in science and technology fields results from a combination of effective programs that encourage underrepresented groups in STEM fields, as well as the enduring power of societal cues and role models.

"Exposure and a more welcoming environment for women and people of color will help. The recent film 'Hidden Figures' is a great example. I didn't grow up knowing that women like that even existed," Cobb said. "If the interest is sparked then more people will migrate towards the area."

Cobb began her graduate studies at Stony Brook University, New York, in a bridge-to-doctorate program, though the curriculum and its design didn't match with her strengths and abilities. When she ended up with a master's degree instead, Cobb took it a sign of failure, that gaps in her learning style meant a lack of competency and aptitude necessary in the field.

"I was discouraged and I doubted whether I deserved to get a Ph.D.," she said.

Instead, she was accepted into an internship program at Harvard University.

"Over that summer, I found out that public health was actually my passion and that I did want to continue to pursue my Ph.D.," Cobb said. "The influence of that summer program really stuck with me, the type of analyses that they did, it just intrigued me. That's when I realized I wanted to do statistical public health research."

Cobb ended up receiving a yearlong research assistantship at Harvard in the epidemiology department, where she gained more experience and decided to try to re-enroll in a Ph.D. program.

"I decided not to accept that I couldn't do it," she said.

And that is where UGA came into her story. She was accepted with a full scholarship.

"I'm from Georgia and I had been up north for three years so I wanted to be closer to home," she said, "and of course UGA is one of the greatest schools in the South."

One of the important factors in her decision to come to UGA was the alignment with the statistics department and the type of research by the faculty.

"You have to make sure that a school is a good fit for you-geared toward your learning style, the type of research, and the environment you want to work in," she said.

Cobb found many positives in UGA statistics, including the faculty member who would be her advisor, a bioinformatics specialist who focuses on genetics research.

"Stacy is probably the most focused and determined of all of the Ph.D. students that I have worked with," said Paul Schliekelman, associate professor in the department of statistics at UGA. "She was the first statistician to make an in-depth analysis of genotype-by sequencing experiments, a recently developed technique that uses next-generation DNA sequencing technology for gene mapping. Her work will help genetics researchers to design their experiments so that they make the most efficient use of resources."

Cobb defended her dissertation in January and has not returned to campus since because she has already started her dream job at Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina. She will be back at UGA for Commencement.

"I love the type of work that I do. Right now, I'm doing public health research, coordinating with physicians such as cardiologists to answer pertinent health questions that affect communities at a global level," she said. "It will help save more lives, and my goal is to be a part of some positive change when it comes to public health."

As a member of one earliest cohorts of a women in STEM initiative, what does she think is the best way to encourage young women and people of color to pursue their interests in science, technology, engineering or mathematics?

"I think there is some intimidation of 'Oh, that's not for you' or 'You're not smart enough for that' when in actuality it's exactly what your mind is made for. So they need that confidence: You can do it just as well as anyone else," Cobb said.

— Alan Flurry, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences

Photo credit:[Stacy Cobb, the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in statistics at the University of Georgia, defended her dissertation in January and has already started her dream job at Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina. She is returning to Athens Friday to receive her degree during Commencement ceremonies.] Stacy Cobb, the first African-American to earn a Ph.D. in statistics at the University of Georgia, defended her dissertation in January and has already started her dream job at Duke Clinical Research Institute in Durham, North Carolina. She is returning to Athens Friday to receive her degree during Commencement ceremonies. (Photos by Freeman Fotographics)

Shreya Ganeshan Honored with Udall Scholarship

Monday, April 24, 2017

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Writer: 
Stephanie Schupska 

Athens, Ga. - The University of Georgia added two new Udall Scholars to its ranks this year as third-year students Shreya Ganeshan and Elizabeth Wilkes were honored for their leadership, public service and commitment to issues related to the environment.

Each year, the Udall Foundation awards about 60 scholarships to college sophomores and juniors for their efforts related to Native American nations or their work in environmental advocacy and policy.

Ganeshan, from Johns Creek, is majoring in economics and statistics and plans to pursue a doctorate in clean energy innovation and deployment. Wilkes, from Atlanta, is majoring in geography and ecology and plans to pursue a master's degree in either food policy or agricultural and environmental studies. Both are Honors students and Foundation Fellows.

"The University of Georgia congratulates our students for this significant accomplishment," said President Jere W. Morehead. "The experiences they have gained through research and internships have prepared them, like other UGA students before them, to compete at the highest levels."

With the addition of Ganeshan and Wilkes, UGA has had 11 Udall Scholars in the past seven years.

Ganeshan is a campus tour guide through the UGA Visitors Center, executive director of the Roosevelt Institute at UGA, director of UGAvotes, adviser for the Lunchbox Garden Project and an emerging fellow for energy and environment for Roosevelt Institute national. She was a research assistant on the UGA geography department's Seattle Project and on a Leiden University aquaculture project in the Netherlands, a Vinson Institute policy fellow, an energy intern for the UGA Office of Sustainability and an Honors in Washington intern at the State Department's Office of the Special Envoy for Climate Change.

She has been involved in the Energy Concept at UGA, RefUGA, the Student Government Association and Palladia Women's and Dean William Tate honor societies. She has presented posters at the Stanford University Clean Energy Awards, the Harvard University Research Conference and the Environmental Protection Agency Symposium. Since high school, Ganeshan has been a South Indian classical music vocalist and performer.

After graduating from UGA, Ganeshan plans to study how weather-related disasters strain local and national infrastructure and plans to develop financial models for clean energy.

Wilkes is currently a research intern with the national Food and Water Watch and a national student representative on the Real Food Challenge steering committee. She mentored high school students through the Young Urban Farmers Program, volunteered on the UGA Office of Sustainability's zero waste and compost teams, was executive director of the Lunchbox Garden Project and presented at the Association of American Geographers meeting and the Mississippi Sustainable Food Summit.

Her internships have included positions with Food Tank: The Think Tank for Food and First Presbyterian Church of Athens through the Waddel Fellowship. She has been involved as a member of the Roosevelt Institute, Society for Applied Anthropology, Palladia Women's Honor Society, Presbyterian Student Center and Students for Environmental Action. She also conducted undergraduate research in geography and political ecology and was a community organizer-in-training through the Sierra Student Coalition's summer program.

Along with her major in human geography, Wilkes will be among the first UGA students to graduate with a Bachelor of Arts in ecology. She plans to pursue a career as an advocate for food justice and hopes to transform food systems to promote environmental and social justice.

The Udall Scholarship provides up to $7,000 for eligible academic expenses and includes a four-day orientation in Tucson, Arizona, and access to the Udall Alumni Network, an extensive group of environmental and tribal leaders and public servants.

The Udall Foundation was established in 1992 to honor Rep. Morris K. Udall for his 30 years of service to the U.S. Congress. Legislation in 2009 incorporated the name of his brother, former U.S. Secretary of the Interior Stewart Udall. The independent agency conducts programs that promote leadership, education, collaboration and conflict resolution in the areas of the environment, public lands and natural resources.

Dr. Ping Ma Selected as 2017 Fellow of American Statistical Association!

Friday, April 14, 2017

Professor Ping Ma has been named a 2017 Fellow of the American Statistical Association (ASA), the Nation's preeminent professional society. Dr. Ma was honored for outstanding contributions to statistical methodology; especially in nonparametric modeling; statistical analysis of massive data sets; bioinformatics; geophysics; for extensive collaborative efforts; and for significant contributions to the profession. He will be honored as ASA Fellow at a ceremony to be held on Tuesday, August, 1, 2017 at Baltimore Convention Center during the Joint Statistical Meeting award ceremony. Please join us in congratulating Dr. Ma for receiving this prestigious recognition at such an early stage of his career! 

2017 Outstanding Teaching Award Winners

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Each year the Center for Teaching and Learning administers the Outstanding Teaching Assistant Award, sponsored by the Office of the Vice President for Instruction. These awards are given to the best student teachers who show remarkable instruction and passion for teaching and learning. This year the Department of Statistics had four of our students recognized. 

Please join me in congratulating Adel Bedoui, Richard Ross, Rui Xie, and Jingyi Zhang on their amazing accomplishment! We are so proud to have them as part of our department. 

Zachary Stokes Received Honorable Mention

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

One of UGA's former Statistics majors, Mr. Zachary Stokes, is a graduate student of UCLA Statistics Department and pursuing his PhD research under the supervision of Dr. Hongquan Xu. He submitted a proposal to the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship Program (https://www.nsfgrfp.org/) extending his undergraduate research conducted at UGA with Dr. Abhyuday Mandal. He received an honorable mention and very positive feedback on his research. Congratulations, Zack!

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