Margaret Chien ’20 at the Summer Research Poster Session
Margaret Chien ’20, a Statistics and Data Science (SDS) Fellow, provided highlights of her work at the opening celebration of Amherst's new Science Center


When students need help wrangling data and working with statistics, they can turn to Statistics and Data Science (SDS) Fellows, peers who put in hours as teaching assistants in classes and consultants at the Moss Quantitative Center.

But there’s a whole other level at which the SDS Fellows work, one which arguably benefits every single person at the College, through projects that are helping the College run and grow.

“They provide the basic support we need, but they're also able to delve into project that they won't see in the class setting,” said Amy S. Wagaman, Associate Professor of Statistics, who advises the students. “They're not going to see that in class. And they're really making a contribution to the college.”

Now in its fourth year, the SDS Fellows program, supported through the David and Jeanette Rosenblum Fund for Statistics Fellows, established by David Rosenblum ’92, selects 10 students annually from a competitive pool. Though they aren’t necessarily stats majors, these students have all completed studies in introductory and intermediate statistics.

“Students at Amherst are keenly interested in the institution and how it works,” says Jesse D. Barba, director of Institutional Research and Registrar Services. “I get a lot of questions every year from students who are writing theses, and they really want to know about Amherst.”

So, along with Nicholas J. Horton, the Beitzel Professor in Technology and Society (Statistics and Data Science), he developed project proposals to get SDS Fellows involved in studying the College itself.

Cassidy Mahor ’19, a Statistics and Data Science Fellow
SDS Fellow Cassidy Maher ’19

The Clearinghouse

For the past two years, SDS Fellows have been working with Barba’s office on analyzing Amherst-related data in the National Student Clearinghouse, a massive database for which colleges report their enrollments every year as part of compliance with financial aid laws.

The information, used largely to help track paperwork for such things as student loans, is “a really valuable research asset, but it’s a pretty cumbersome one,” says Barba. “It’s a lot of fiddly data, and it requires some sustained attention.”

SDS Fellows are compiling scripts that will help parse out the data, to better track the academic and career pursuits of Amherst graduates and nongraduates.

“It will help us keep track of some strategic planning outcomes,” he says. “And we’re also hoping that it can be an asset for departments, who often want to know more about what their alumni are doing.”

Cassidy Mahor ’19 and Silvia Sotolongo ’19, two SDS Fellows providing highlights of their summer research
Left to right: SDS Fellows Cassidy Maher ’19 and Silvia Sotolongo ’19

Alumni Giving

Elsewhere on campus, SDS Fellows Shu Amano ’21 and Robert Zielinski ’19 have also been taking a statistical look at Amherst graduates, but in their case, it’s in hopes of courting alumni donations.

“I can do some statistical analysis, and I certainly have, but I didn’t major in stats in undergrad and don’t have as much expertise as these students do,” says Nicole Sibley, data analyst for the Amherst Fund.

Zielinski is coming up with models to predict alumni willingness to make donations to the College, while Amano is analyzing data from the College’s last fundraising campaign for factors—age, major, student activities, career, past giving—that might forecast “leadership giving”: donations amounting to six figures.

Using a predictive model like this is helpful when looking at the potential leadership giving of younger alums who were not alums yet during the previous campaign, Sibley said.

“People can engage with the College in a lot of different ways. They can write a letter giving feedback, or they can volunteer. They can come to events,” she says. Amano is trying to determine which kinds of engagement predict that an alum will donate large amounts of money in the future.

Andrea Boskovic ’21, Grace Montoya ’20 and Fengling Hu ’19
Left to right: SDS Fellows Andrea Boskovic ’21, Grace Montoya ’20 and Fengling Hu ’19


Andrea Boskovic ’21 and Margaret Chien ’20 are working with the College’s Office of Sustainability on a project gauging energy use on campus.

“One of the things that we’ve been working on for several years is trying to use the campus as a living lab, and one way to do that is to make sure all the data that we collect, that we use for different reasons, from facilities, can be available to students and professors to use in class,” says Laura Draucker, director of sustainability. “That sounds easier than it actually is.”

The Facilities Department has meters throughout the campus taking energy-use readings for the building management system. The College has contracted with the IT firm Conexxion to put the readings into a more accessible database.

“We hope to then use this to make an energy dashboard that will be understandable to students with minimal statistics or sustainability background,” Boskovic says.

“I see the database that Conexxion has as kind of like a phone without any apps on it,” Draucker says. “The students are the ones that could potentially build apps. They could answer questions like: Are the Greenway dorms behaving the way they’re supposed to? Are they doing the right things, energy-wise?”

Boskovic says one possibility is to use the dashboard in a competition between dormitories, to encourage students to minimize their energy use.

Grace Montoya ’20 and Fengling Hu ’19, SDS Fellows
SDS Fellows Grace Montoya ’20 and Fengling Hu ’19