After expecting to only spend two years at Tuskegee University following his faculty appointment in the fall of 1990, Dr. Leo Upchurch is nearing his 30th anniversary on the faculty of the Brimmer College of Business and Information Science. He credits his longevity to finding ways to communicate difficult subjects to young people and enabling them to see the beauty in the subject and what it can do.
As a testament to his contributions to the field, the American Statistical Association will recognize his efforts of reaching statistics students in a variety of disciplines this week at its JSM2018 conference in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada.
Just the right fit
Upchurch came to the university to teach statistics, analytics, quantitative methods and some of the usual subjects students tend to dislike. He says his primary goal has always been to help students appreciate the power and usefulness of statistics.
“I’ve taken it all in stride and have no regrets for contributions I’ve made to the program,” Upchurch said. “Had we not had a program set in place like the College of Business and Information Science, we would not be able to take credit for the countless students that have found their way in life.”
The most rewarding part for Upchurch has been watching young people grow into aspiring, successful individuals.
“I’ve seen students catch fire and become incredible corporate professionals,” he noted, explaining that it may take them beginning their careers to fully appreciate the benefit of classroom concepts. “I’m almost certain that within 10 to 15 years, they’ll come back looking for me and give credit to our program.”
Numbers don’t lie
Upchurch became interested in statistics after studying R.A. Fisher, a British statistician and geneticist, in college.
“It was the study of scientific racism during a course that made me aware of what I was being taught in the classroom,” he recalled. “And based on statistics, which is a tool that science depends on to validate and demonstrate the efficiency and accuracy of what is done, I refuted this claim.”
Upchurch says at that moment, he was left looking for ways to undo what he was taught and find a better way to present the idea to others.
“For me, the world is a collection of random variables, and we learn how to extract insight from what appears to be randomness to other people, and those who learn how to operate amongst those variables will be successful,” said Upchurch.
Upchurch says when students take his course, he wants them to remember that statistics is the science of knowing through data, and it’s the most important course they will ever have that will be applied to life.
Upchurch says Brimmer College programs prepare students to be successful, and he wants them to always keep that in mind.
“We train them for the future. I explain to them that statisticians take the time to do what others often don’t,” he explained.
To learn more about Tuskegee’s Brimmer College of Business and Information Science, visit https://www.tuskegee.edu/cbis