The highly anticipated 2016 Probability and Statistics Day at UMBC on May 20 and 21 featured numerous compelling talks from leading statisticians. Previous years included workshops and student presentations on innovative work, while this year included a poignant celebration. In addition to marking the event’s 10th anniversary, participants also honored event founder Bimal Sinha, longtime professor of mathematics and statistics at UMBC, on his 70th birthday.
Sinha founded the graduate program in applied statistics at UMBC and has made substantial contributions to the UMBC community over three decades. “What stands out for me,” said Bill LaCourse, dean of the College of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, “is that he is a kind, thoughtful, and generous person.” Reflecting on Sinha’s work to expand statistics at UMBC is like watching “an acorn…growing into a mighty oak,” said LaCourse.
Many of Sinha’s former students returned to UMBC to attend the event, which is “a testament to his mentorship and involvement,” said Liz Stanwyck Ph.D. ’11. Stanwyck recalled that Sinha helped arrange for her to give invited talks in Bangladesh and India during her graduate studies, an opportunity that proved to be transformative. Stanwyck currently serves as a lecturer in the UMBC math department and as the statistics program advisor.
Barry Nussbaum, president-elect of the American Statistical Association (ASA), lauded the UMBC math and statistics department—and by extension, Sinha, who helped shape it—for “embracing all the traits the ASA suggests departments have” to be recognized as standard bearers. These include an emphasis on data science and external communications, real applications of theoretical work, and interdisciplinary initiatives. Nussbaum was particularly impressed by what he called UMBC’s “innovative extras,” such as the strength of undergraduate research and the “math gym” tutoring program.
Colleagues also reflected on Sinha’s pivotal role in developing strong relationships with local agencies where his theoretical work is applied. In addition to furthering research, relationships with groups like the Environmental Protection Agency and U.S. Census Bureau create important opportunities for students and alumni.
“It’s fascinating to see what our alumni have done with their careers,” said Rouben Rostamian, who joined the UMBC faculty the same year as Sinha and is now chair of UMBC’s math department. He shared, “It gives meaning to what we do here.”
In addition to his contributions to UMBC, Sinha has founded an annual mathematics and statistics conference in Africa, hosted over the first three years in Ethiopia, Cameroon, and Senegal, and planned to take place next in South Africa. “We can actually see the impact it is having,” said Thomas Mathew, professor of mathematics and statistics at UMBC.
Throughout his long career, still going strong, Bimal Sinha has cultivated a global research network, mentored dozens of graduate students to their Ph.D. and M.S. degrees, contributed new knowledge to the field of statistics, and founded a graduate program and two successful conference series, among other accomplishments. The secret to his success, he says, is simply, “Do good work and be nice to everybody”—a message his students and colleague have taken to heart.
Images: Attendees (header image) and Bimal Sinha (l) and Barry Nussbaum (r) at UMBC Probability and Statistics Day 2016. Photos by Ricardo Moura.