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Alumni, Faculty & Students, Department of Statistics. Photo credit: Dr. Horace Luong.

Marking a milestone: Department of Statistics celebrates fifty years

June 22, 2017 — 

The probability for an amazing evening was 100 per cent on the night of June 10, 2017, as the U of M’s Department of Statistics officially marked its 50th anniversary in existence, the oldest Department of Statistics in the country. Alumni and educators past and present from around the country gathered in Marshall McLuhan Hall in University Centre to celebrate and reminisce.

Doing the honours as emcee for the event was Brian Macpherson, [MSc/63], Senior Scholar, and former president of the U of M’s Alumni Association, his employment here predating the actual creation of the Department by two years.

Adding to the general excitement of the occasion was the fact that many of the evening’s attendees were also participating in the annual meeting of the Statistical Society of Canada. Notably, the second time in thirty years that the U of M has hosted the conference, which drew roughly five hundred delegates from across the country.

Speeches began during dinner, Dr. David Bellhouse, [BA, Actuarial Science/70, MA, Statistics/72] Faculty of Science Honoured Alumnus, recounted the evolution of the Department from its twin roots in Actuarial Science and Agriculture to today’s incarnation. Bellhouse recalled a course called “Statistical Laboratory” (introduced in 1938), where the students were required to use Monroe calculators.

Monroe 8N-213 calculator – Ridai Museum of Modern Science Tokyo, distributed under a CC-BY 2.0 license.

These were the same calculators that he used thirty years later in his first statistics course. Ultimately, it was the excellence of the education he received at the U of M, that caused Bellhouse to study here:

“… [I]t was the best graduate program in the country.”

Among the VIPs in attendance were:

  • Dr. Charlie Goldsmith, [MSc/63], Professor Emeritus, Department of Health Research Methods, Evidence, and Impact, McMaster University. Dr. Goldsmith was one of the first, of three to graduate from the Department. He is internationally recognized as a leader in the development of evidence-based decision-making in medical practice.
  • Dr. John Petkau, [BSc Double (Hons.), Mathematics & Statistics, /71], Professor, University of British Columbia, Department of Statistics, and University of Manitoba, Faculty of Science Honoured Alumnus, who remarked that when he went to Stanford for his PhD., none of his peers were nearly as well trained in Mathematics and Statistics as he was after his stint at the UofM.
  • Allan Donner, [MSc/67], internationally recognized as a driving force in the development of biostatistical methodology, having collaborated extensively with elite institutions such as the World Health Organization, the International Vaccine Institute and the Centres for Disease Control.

Also on hand was much-beloved former Head and Professor Emeritus, Dr. Smiley Cheng, whose 37 years with the department still make him smile. During his tenure, Dr. Cheng ensured that all faculty taught all courses within the Department, as he felt that teaching and research were equally important. Professors rotated their teaching duties, so that they could teach any course, not only to keep faculty up-to-date with new methods and theories, but also to ensure a level playing field.

It was an evening of friendship and fond memories, with much shared laughter. Fifty years later, the Department of Statistics is thriving and looking forward to the next fifty.

Special thanks to Dr. Horace Luong, Department of Chemistry, for event photography.

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