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Student statisticians present research on Capitol Hill

By Kristina Boyer '05
May 24, 2005

Seven St. Olaf student statisticians presented two research projects to legislators at the Council on Undergraduate Research "Posters on the Hill" symposium in Washington D.C. The students, all research fellows with the St. Olaf Center for Interdisciplinary Research (CIR), were part of an undergraduate consortium for the advancement of funds for undergraduate research.

"The students did high quality work," says Associate Professor of Statistics Julie Legler who directs the statistics concentration program and is a primary advisor with the Center for Interdisciplinary Research. "It was an honor for them to be selected, and a testament to their good work."

Kathleen Kephart '07 (Willow River, Minn.), Keiza Manlove '06 (Rapid City, S.D.), Allan Trapp '06 (Washburn, Wis.), all statistics concentrators, along with Janine Wetzel '05 (Stillwater, Okla.), presented their project, "Difference in Body Mass, Per Capita Income and Physical Activity: A Preliminary Examination of Resources and Data," which analyzed data from the World Health Organization's 2002 world health survey. The students looked for relationships between per capita income and body mass index, and concluded that as per capita increased, body mass also increased until the per capita income exceeded approximately $9,100 per year.

Jeanette Herbers '05 (Kansas City, Mo.) and Bethany Jacobson '06 (Bismarck, N.D.), both psychology majors with statistics concentrations, and math major Kirsten Eilertson '06 (Austin, Minn.) worked with Associate Professor of Psychology Bonnie Sherman to study the effect of number forms (persistent visual-spatial perception of numbers) on an individual's ability to perform simple arithmetic tasks, both in terms of speed and accuracy. The project explored an area of cognitive psychology, with students asking questions such as: How do we perform mathematical computations and how do people with this unique ability perform math? The students found that people who used number forms were slower in performing simple arithmetic tasks than people who did not use the forms.

The St. Olaf statistics concentration, housed in the department of the Math, Statistics and Computer Science, uses tools that are of primary importance in a variety of disciplines, including actuarial science, biology, economics, education, psychology, medicine, law and other social sciences. With a statistics concentration St. Olaf students can combine their interests in statistics with any major and acquire a background that leads to graduate study and abundant career opportunities.

The Washington D.C. symposium was a valuable opportunity for the St. Olaf students who not only presented their research to a national audience but also allowed them to meet with legislators on Capitol Hill and helped them to better understand the importance of undergraduate science research.

"A very important part of meeting with legislators was highlighting the significance of undergraduate research," says Janine Wetzel, a political science major. "Our research with St. Olaf was funded by the National Science Foundation and continued support by legislators is essential to keep these opportunities available to students."

In 2004 St. Olaf was awarded a $1.3 million, five-year grant from the National Science Foundation to enhance the mathematical sciences workforce in the 21st century and support the creation of a Center for Interdisciplinary Research, currently the only undergraduate interdisciplinary research program in the nation.

"The Center for Interdisciplinary Research provides an infrastructure for St. Olaf students to connect statistics with research in other disciplinary areas," says Legler. "It also increases awareness of the necessity for statistic research and specialists." The grant enables the CIR to provide opportunities for students to conduct interdisciplinary statistics research and present their findings at the state and national level.

Contact Carole Engblom at 507-646-3271 or leigh@stolaf.edu.