Senior Tessa Johnson ’17.
By Chris Jarvis, Texas A&M University College of Science
When Texas A&M University senior Tessa Johnson ’17 receives her diploma on Aug. 11, it will mark a major milestone for both her and the Department of Statistics.
Johnson will walk across the summer commencement ceremonies stage at Reed Arena and graduate as the first Texas A&M student to earn a bachelor’s of science in statistics, the department’s new undergraduate degree program launched in 2016, with Johnson as its first official enrollee.
“Being the first stat major is really incredible,” Johnson said. “I didn’t do it on purpose; I didn’t come to A&M because I knew that was going to happen. I picked something that I knew I enjoyed.”
With the big data revolution sweeping the nation and world, demand for statisticians is at an all-time high. The Houston Chronicle reports that a new study by Zippia, a company which specializes in helping people identify suitable careers, has found that jobs in statistics are the second-fastest growing in Texas, based on data from the U.S. Department of Labor and the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). On the national level, BLS data projects statistics will increase 34 percent by 2024.
Johnson, originally an applied mathematical sciences major, says she decided to add a statistics degree to her academic plans and pursue a double major after considering the versatility of the field and the booming global market for statisticians.
“Statistics is anything that involves data, and that can look like a lot of different things,” Johnson said. “I decided to be a statistics major because I was interested in studying a lot of different things, and statistics is a great field if you’re interested in a lot of different things.”
Texas A&M is now the sixth Texas-based institution to offer a bachelor’s degree in statistics, joining Rice University, Baylor University, the University of Texas at San Antonio, Southern Methodist University and the University of Houston-Downtown. But statistics professor Alan Dabney, a faculty advisor for the new major, notes that Texas A&M’s undergraduate statistics program comes with advantages. Because Texas A&M Statistics is home to one of the largest and highest-rated graduate programs in the country, Dabney says that undergraduates like Johnson have the distinct benefit of being mentored by world-class faculty as well as the top-level graduate students they attract by virtue of their varied expertise and research interests. Given the constantly emerging options, Dabney says students have both the freedom and mobility to direct their academic career paths toward any particular focus they so choose.
“The goal is to generate the next generation of statisticians, and the degree plan for the Bachelor of Science in Statistics is highly flexible,” Dabney said. “We have a large faculty with distinguished members ranging from research to teaching, and I think there’s value in being able to interact with faculty of that caliber.
“I hear from people in industry that someone who is trained in thinking probabilistically is highly valued. You can do pretty much anything you want to do, so long as it has data involved, and that is a wide variety of things right now.”
Despite it being a brand-new degree program and faced with the added workload that comes with adding a major, Johnson says she never second-guessed rerouting her academic pursuits. In addition to taking several graduate-level courses, Johnson devotes time to performing undergraduate research alongside Valen E. Johnson, University Distinguished Professor and head of Texas A&M Statistics, using cluster algorithms to analyze different gene sets and their correlation to breast cancer.
In sum, Johnson chalks it up to well-rounded experience that she plans to put to good use when she begins graduate school at Duke University, which recently awarded her the prestigious James B. Duke Fellowship to continue her study of statistics as a member of their Ph.D. program beginning this fall.
“I definitely feel well prepared for going to grad school at Duke,” Johnson said. “In talking to other graduate students who are currently there and hearing what kind of experience they went in with, I don’t feel like I’m substantially behind.
“What I’m going to miss most about the department is that they’ve given me a lot of freedom. I picked Duke because it’s pretty similar to that.”
To learn more about the Bachelor of Science in Statistics degree program and its requirements, visit http://www.stat.tamu.edu/academics/undergraduate/.
Contact: Chris Jarvis, (979) 845-7246 or firstname.lastname@example.org or Dr. Alan Dabney, email@example.com
This story was originally posted on the College of Science website.