As one of the local co-chairs of the event, Postdoctoral Fellow and Visiting Assistant Professor of Statistics Brittney Bailey spent most of StatFest 2018 hurrying around the new Science Center, making sure attendees and presenters had what they needed. When keynote speaker Scarlett Bellamy took the stage, though, Bailey took a seat inside the auditorium to listen.
A professor of biostatistics at Drexel University, Bellamy spoke of growing up as the child of teenage parents in rural North Carolina. While she would find out later that there had been math teachers in her family, “there were no clear, obvious messages that somebody like me should be doing a STEM degree.”
“For better or worse, this kid who grew up on a tobacco farm is now a public health research scientist,” Bellamy said. “It wasn’t always easy. Graduate school was pretty challenging, but you just have to push through.”
Bailey, who was the first in her family to graduate from college, knows what that feels like. As one of few African American women in her field, she rarely encountered others who looked similar—until she started attending conferences on diversity in science.
“As a grad student, that’s where I found my community,” Bailey says. “Often times, especially when you’re a minority, you’re really the only one in your program.”
That’s what StatFest, a conference for underrepresented students, was created to help change. An ongoing initiative by the American Statistical Association through its Committee on Minorities in Statistics, StatFest is held at a different college or university each year.
Amherst College hosted the event for the first time this year after Beitzel Professor in Technology and Society Nick Horton—who was then a member of the ASA board of Directors and, like Bailey, was a local co-chair for the event—realized the Science Center would be open in time for the conference and offered the new space as a venue.
This year’s conference included 150 attendees, including 80 undergraduates, from 90 institutions around the country. It was live-streamed to Purdue University in Indiana and Pomona College in California.
The conference was purposefully kept small and designed less around talks—which also included a keynote by Professor Fernando Perez of the Berkeley Institute for Data Science, as well as a variety of panels—and more on networking opportunities.
Bailey says the Science Center, which features living room spaces and smaller meeting areas, provided an ideal setting:
“The space was perfect. All of that soft furniture meant that people stayed and talked. That’s really what the day is about.”
In feedback provided after the event, student attendees said the conference made them more aware of graduate programs, gave them insight into statistical science careers and helped them meet more people of color (POC) in their field.
“It provided me with insights about different pathways and careers I could pursue in statistical science,” one student wrote. “P.S. I didn’t know that top schools accept POC.”
"I met people (both students and professionals) who look, talk and behave differently from what I am used to in stats,” wrote another. “It's good to feel for once that I belong here."