Math department adds programs

By focusing on effect size meta-analysis, analysts can avoid getting all excited at trivial effects,” Todd Bodner told the 20 students and professors who came to hear him talk about his work on statistics at last Friday’s math colloquium.

Statistics students and professors alike do have reason to be excited, however: A master’s program in statistics was finally approved last month.

“It’s a huge deal for me,” Wendy Obenauf said. Obenauf, who finished the bulk of her coursework two years ago, will be the first student to receive the degree later this month.

Obenauf could have gotten a master’s in math, but held out for the statistics degree, which is valued much more by employers. “You may study the same material, but it’s just not the same for hiring purposes,” she said.

The new master’s program is just one of several changes in the math department. For the first time, students will be able to get a Ph.D. in math, a move that department Chair Gene Enneking hopes will bring greater prominence to the department.

“People who do have a Ph.D. program (at their university) readily admit it’s big help in getting grants,” Enneking said.

As PSU faces down the lowest state funding in a decade, a little help with grants could go a long way. The math department would like to add a position or two, Enneking said, but will likely wait until grant money materializes.

At present, the math department offers a Ph.D. in systems science, an interdisciplinary program that requires considerable coursework in math. Offering a doctorate in math, however, will allow graduates to more accurately reflect their coursework to employers.

The same is true of the statistics program, which will retain an interdisciplinary flavor, Enneking said, an approach that makes statistics grads better prepared for the interdisciplinary nature of statistics work.

“We try to simulate as best we can the environment that (graduates) will be out in,” Enneking said.

Bodner, who is a professor of psychology but holds a master’s in statistics, said that the “language of statistics,” brings together those with disparate backgrounds.

“What I love about statistics is that you can do a lot of things,” he said.

For Obenauf, if all goes well, that thing will be quality engineering.

“I’m really close to a really perfect job at Intel,” she said.