Portrait on Main Hall Green: Andrew Sage (Photo by Danny Damiani)

About the series: On Main Hall Green With … is an opportunity to connect with faculty on things in and out of the classroom. We’re featuring a different Lawrence faculty member every two weeks — same questions, different answers.

Story by Ed Berthiaume / Communications

Andrew Sage arrived at Lawrence at just the right time.

The assistant professor of statistics came on board in 2018 just as the school was looking to expand its offerings in the areas of statistics and data science to meet a growing demand surrounding all things data.

He was the first of a one-two punch in the mathematics faculty. When Abhishek Chakraborty joined the team a year later, plans moved quickly to launch a new minor in data science. That goes live in the fall.

Read a story about Lawrence’s new Statistics and Data Science minor here. Additional details on the program can be found here.

Sage has a bachelor’s degree from the College of Wooster, master’s degrees from Iowa State and Miami University, and a Ph.D. from Iowa State.

We caught up with him to talk about his vision for data education and his passions in and out of the classroom.

IN THE CLASSROOM

Inside info: What’s one thing you want every student coming into your classes to know about you?

I want my students to know how much I learn from them. My students challenge and sharpen my understanding, and perhaps most importantly, teach me how to be a better teacher. Some of the most important changes I have made in my teaching have been the result of suggestions from students. I want my students to know that I am always listening, and I want to hear their thoughts on how we can work together to best help each other learn.

Through my students, I have also learned so much about topics I previously had little knowledge. In my applied statistics courses, students complete projects that connect the course material to topics they are interested in. Through these projects, I have learned about such topics as the economic impact of having babies in various countries, the nature and impact of volcanic eruptions, inconsistencies in media coverage of forest fires, and many more. We are all lifelong learners and I hope my students realize how much of a role they play in my own learning.

Getting energized: What work have you done or will you be doing at Lawrence that gets you the most excited?

I am very excited about expanding the opportunities for students to study statistics and data science at Lawrence. In the 2020-21 academic year, we will be launching a new minor in statistics and data science, as well as a statistics track within the mathematics major. Abhishek Chakraborty and I are working together to develop new courses in rapidly advancing areas like data science, machine learning, and Bayesian statistics.

The statistics and data science minor could be paired with many different majors. The minor incorporates not only courses taught by statisticians, but also data-driven courses in other departments. Faculty and students all across campus use data and statistical software in their courses and research. I am excited about opportunities for collaboration that will result from our growth in this area. A data scientist must possess not only a strong statistical foundation, and programming skills, but also domain area expertise, and the ability to account for ethical considerations. I cannot think of a better place to develop this kind of reasoning than a liberal arts college.

Going places: Is there an example of somewhere your career has taken you (either a physical space or something more intellectual, emotional or spiritual) that took you by surprise?

I always knew that I wanted to teach, but I didn’t know what subject, or at what level. At various points, I thought I was going to teach history, or theoretical mathematics, before I arrived at applied statistics. I taught high school for four years, and enjoyed it, before I decided that that the college level would be the best place for me.

OUT OF THE CLASSROOM

This or that: If you weren’t teaching for a living, what would you be doing?  

If I wasn’t teaching, I would be umpiring baseball games. I love baseball, and umpiring was a great way for me to stay involved in the game and make a little money while I was in college. It’s been years since I last called a game, but every so often, I get the urge to be back on the diamond.

Right at home: Whether for work, relaxation or reflection, what’s your favorite spot on campus?

I love the bike path that runs along the river. It’s a great place to go for a run and clear my mind, and it offers a gorgeous view of campus.

One book, one recording, one film: Name one of each that speaks to your soul? Or you would recommend to a friend? Or both?

Book: I’m a big fan of David Baldacci’s mystery crime novels. My favorite is The Simple Truth (1998)

Recording: Centerfield (John Fogerty). As I said, I love baseball.

Film: The Imitation Game (2014). The film highlights Alan Turing’s pioneering work in artificial intelligence and machine learning, as well as the persecution he faced as a result of being gay. While the film takes liberties in a biographical sense, it draws attention to a critically important figure who is often denied the credit he deserves.

Ed Berthiaume is director of public information at Lawrence University. Email: ed.c.berthiaume@lawrence.edu