September 29 – October 1, 2023

The Department of Statistics at Iowa State University will be hosting a research conference in celebration of its 75th anniversary from 29th September, 2023 through 1st October, 2023. Here we list in brief the history of the department.

The first step in the growth of statistics at Iowa State University came when George Snedecor joined the faculty of the Department of Mathematics in 1913 and began teaching courses with statistical content the next year. The courses were of great interest to graduate students and research workers in agriculture as Snedecor’s courses emphasized the importance of careful experimental design and the application of statistical methods. This was followed, in 1924, by a Saturday lecture series by Henry A. Wallace on machine calculations for statistical methods, leading to his joint publication with Snedecor on the topic. The university formed the Mathematical Statistics Service (a statistical consulting and computing service) in 1927 with Snedecor and A. E. Brandt as heads, that eventually led to the formation of the Statistical Laboratory in 1933, with Snedecor as its first Director. Snedecor immediately persuaded his mentee Gertrude Cox to return to her native Iowa to help him. At the same time she was put in charge of establishing a Computing Laboratory and consulted in and taught experi- mental designs. The laboratory, with its “human computers,” was regarded at the time to be the largest and most sophisticated of its kind, and had lasting impact in many disciplines, having provided, for instance, test beds for early computer scientists experimenting with new ideas for computing machines and for numerical algorithms. In 1935, the Iowa Agriculture Experiment Station formed a Statistical Section to support the relationship between statistical methods and agricultural research, with Snedecor as its head. This section was organized in 1947 into the Department of Statistics as an independent department in the Division of Science (now the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences), and continues as the principal unit responsible for undergraduate and graduate teaching of statistics in the University. The department was instrumental in establishing Mu Sigma Rho as a national Statistics honorary fraternity stressing both theoretical and applied statistics. The Department of Statistics also continues to offer all aspects of statistical consulting services, and in particular, provides leadership in the development and application of statistical methodology.

Although the graduate program was established along with the undergraduate program in statistics and the department in 1947, the first MS degree with a statistics major was Gertrude Cox’s “A Statistical Investigation of a Teacher’s Ability as Indicated by the Success of His Students in Subsequent Courses.” Although she continued with her statistics dissertation in Iowa State University, her responsibilities in the newly-formed Statistical Laboratory did not leave her much time for writing, the university’s first doctoral degree in mathematics with a major in statistics was by Holly Fryer for his 1940 dissertation titled “An analysis of group differences arising from a Poisson distribution obtained from irradiation experiments,” that explored the reliability of chi-squared tests when classes are numerous and expected counts are small. In 1958, Cox was awarded an honorary D.Sc. degree by Iowa State University. Since the department’s founding, there have been at least 775 doctoral dissertations awarded. Since 1947, the program has offered major and co-major degrees in statistics at the PhD level, MS and BS levels.

The department’s faculty, graduate students and alums have achieved many national and international laurels, including the Committee on Presidents of Statistical Societies award (Hadley Wickham, 2019), elected memberships in the National Academies and the International Statistical Institute, elected fellowships in the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the American Statistical Association or the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, important leadership positions in top scientific societies, and many other top honors. The department continues its tradition of theoretical and applied research in all areas, as figuratively displayed here.