When most people think about statistics, the odds are good that Las Vegas or Churchill Downs comes to mind.
Will the 5:1 horse win?
What is the probability the player will hit Blackjack?
In fact, much of what goes on in life is based on statistical data. Calculating the odds of if it will rain or whether a friend will show up on time is an everyday occurrence. Those imagining a statistics classroom may conjure up images of white boards filled with graphs, equations, processes and subsets and columns of numbers.
True for some, but not for the six Misericordia University students in the spring semester of Statistics 428 – Non-Parametric Statistics class, taught by Assistant Professor Michael Floren, Ph.D.
Floren joined the Department of Mathematics at Misericordia University in 2018 in support of the newly launched Bachelor of Science degree program in statistics. Within his first few months, he received a request from the Misericordia Office of Service-Learning to help the Wilkes-Barre YMCA provide statistical analysis and answer questions concerning the demographics of the organization’s membership. After an intense semester of work – inside and outside the classroom – the research project culminated with his students presenting their findings to members of the YMCA’s administration in late April.
“Not only were we able to pair our students with an important service project in the community in the spirit of Misericordia’s Mercy mission, we gave them an opportunity to work with live data, practice presenting what they know to a non-mathematical audience and see how their detailed results are applicable in the real world, not just a classroom,” Floren explained.
Robert Duliba, senior director of Membership Services at the YMCA, asked the team to analyze the demographics of the Y’s membership in a variety of categories so to determine if there were any particular geographic pockets of membership. Doing so would help him insure that grant monies and scholarships for programs, such as child-care, were serving clients equally throughout the service area.
Misericordia University juniors Sarah Netchert, Sarah Bender, Danielle Clifford and Lindsay Kane, and the Statistics Program’s first graduates Chris Larson and Wesley Hill all agreed the process took far more time than they anticipated, mostly because the more involved they got, the more they wanted to make sure the job was done right.
The team went well beyond what Floren had anticipated, and created what he enthusiastically described as “cool, interactive graphics including heat maps” that allowed the YMCA administrators to see colorful layers of statistical analysis compiled into a webpage using a Google Maps overlay. The layered maps provided the opportunity to zoom in and out of heat clusters while seeing city names on the screen.
“The students were able to compile the information so that the Y administrators can compare a variety of data streams at the same time,” said Floren.
By definition, non-parametric statistics means not making as many assumptions in analyzing data as in traditional statistics. Their results fit the description.
“Their work was fantastic,” said Duliba, immediately following the presentation, while standing on the front steps of the 85-year-old YMCA building in the historic section of downtown Wilkes-Barre. “We didn’t know what to expect. They helped us identify a couple of areas that we need to seriously look at regarding the distribution of scholarships. It also helped us confirm a few things in the process.”
Hill, a senior statistics and mathematics dual major from Picture Rocks, admitted his first service-learning class provided a welcomed break from traditional math problems – yet it was a lot more intensive than he expected.
“This project gave me real-world experience, and at the same time a sense of purpose and how it feels to help the community,” he said. “I am really happy to be a part of the team.”
Clifford, a junior statistics and sport management major from Westtown, New York, agreed.
“Yes, it was a lot of work, but it gave us amazing hands-on, real-life experience in the field,” she added. “It fit our mission not only as a class but as a Mercy University.”
Floren laughingly admits that people “painfully groan” when he says he teaches statistics, as they think back to tedious math equations they studied in high school.
“Statistics is a way to understand what mathematics means – it is a step past the calculations – where we use our answers to answer everyday questions,” he said.