Outside of the Classroom: Community Service

Recently, several graduate students in the department have expressed interest in giving back to the community through volunteer work. Last Saturday, we kicked off the first department-wide service event at LifeCare Alliance.

LifeCare Alliance is an organization that serves older members of the Columbus community, and also operates the Meals-on-Wheels program in Columbus. Staff and volunteers at their distribution center pack and deliver meals to people’s homes, seven days a week. On Saturday, the theme of our work was apples: we were in the prep kitchen packing apples and applesauce into bags for individual households. By the end of the afternoon, everyone was a pro at counting to ten and stacking boxes. We also cleaned out delivery bags and prepared them for the next day’s deliveries.

We plan to continue to have regular opportunities for both students and faculty in our department to get involved, both with this organization and others. Check your email to learn about future events, and let the co-presidents know if you have ideas of new organizations we could reach out to and potentially work with in the future.

Student Profile: Vincent Geels

Hometown: Dayton, OH

Age: 28

Degree Program: MS in Statistics
Bachelors Degree: BA in History
Alma Mater: Grinnell College

The funny thing about my being in this program is that, if you had told me 7 years ago I would look forward to doing any kind of quantitative work in my future, I would have laughed in your face. I avoided mathematics like the plague as an undergraduate, and it wasn’t until several years after I earned my BA that I developed an interest in math, first through a free Coursera course on calculus, and from there through courses at a community college in Philadelphia and at Temple University. I now consider it a great privilege to be able to devote most of my waking hours to thinking and learning–very slowly, I’m talking slug’s pace here–about statistics.

Beyond my classes, I’m also a TA for STAT1350, which is super rewarding on a number of different levels. I get to try and convey core statistical ideas to undergraduate students in a meaningful way, and communicate with them on a level that hopefully gets them thinking about why these ideas are important, why we might be motivated to think about the kinds of questions raised in the study of statistics, and how the use of statistics helps shape our understanding of the world more than they may think.

Away from campus, I’m a big Philadelphia Flyers fan, because my main hobby is being disappointed and/or let down on a regular and consistent basis (Ha ha get it? It’s been a rough couple of years 😭). I also like biking around, making very bad electronic music, and hanging out with my cat, Ned. My girlfriend and I have had him for the past 6 years and I still have no clue whether or not he actually realizes I exist. Love that lil guy.

Student Profile: Deborah Kunkel

Hi! I am a 5th year student in the Statistics PhD program.  I grew up in Urbana, IL.  Before coming to Ohio State I got a B.A. in Business with a Spanish concentration from the University of Dallas.  After graduation, I stayed in Dallas for a bit and served on an AmeriCorps team for a summer and then worked as an office manager at an ESL school.  I started school here in 2012 and might finish this December, or the following spring.

My adviser is Mario Peruggia and we are working on choosing priors for Bayesian mixture models.  Mixtures are really useful, but not very well-behaved, so choosing priors can be tricky.  In the course of writing my thesis, I plan to apply some of our ideas to a model for human trafficking data. I’ve also done some research on missing data methodology and modeling response times with a professor of psychology.  It’s been very cool to get to work on such a variety of projects during my short time here.

I am currently a TA for the online section of STAT 1450.  We have more students this semester than ever before, and some are even outside of the US this semester.  I’ve worked with the online course for awhile now, and it’s been really interesting to see how students learn in this setting.  We touch base briefly each week with them through office hours, and I’m usually impressed by how much they have learned independently since I “saw” them last.  Earlier in my time at OSU, I also lectured for 1430 and TAed for 1350.

When I’m not studying in Cockins Hall, some of my favorite things to do in Columbus include:

  • Plays at the OSU theater department
  • “Wake and Shake,” an early morning dance party at Wild Goose Creative
  • Free magic shows at P3 magic theater
  • Volunteer events through Columbus Gives Back
  • Getting coffee at Stauf’s in Grandview
  • Red White and Boom (fireworks) on the 4th of July

I also love to throw themed parties, attend weddings, and watch Gilmore Girls on Netflix.  I travel to North Carolina and Georgia often to see my family.   (I have two older sisters and am expecting my third niece in March! ) Next on my list of places to visit is New Orleans.

Outside of the Classroom: Trivia Night

If there’s one thing graduate students love, it is asserting their dominance in the intellectual arena. Thankfully, Columbus offers a variety of trivia competitions to satiate this need. Different styles of trivia include, but are not limited to, standard bar trivia (timed discussion with point wagering), buzzer style (think Jeopardy), as well as specialty theme nights at various establishments throughout the city. Often, there can even be financial incentive in addition to all-important bragging rights!

In a tribute to Cockins Hall namesake Edith Cockins, Team Hurricane Edith came in 3rd place out of 10 at Trivia Night this week, earning a $10 Hampton’s on King gift card in the process. Statistics graduate students Justin Strait, Corey Smith, Deborah Kunkel, Matt Wascher, Andy McCarthy, and Nate Onnen, as well as program alumnus Jason Benedict answered questions ranging in topic from pop culture and celebrities to state nicknames and world geography.

Stats graduate students play trivia on a crisp, fall evening

Out of the 18 questions in the regular round, the team answered 16 correctly. If you can answer either of the following two questions (answers listed below), the team could have used you on Sunday:

  1. What famous actress was engaged to Brad Pitt, then later had a relationship with Ben Affleck?
  2. What is the only element on the periodic table besides Mercury that is a liquid at STP (Standard Temperature and Pressure)?

The team’s diverse mix of interests and backgrounds creates a good base of knowledge from which to answer questions. Jason has a bachelor’s degree in biology, and along with veterinarian girlfriend Jenn (photo credit) and dog Brodie, provides most of the scientific knowledge. Nate’s love of television and movies consistently provides a boost, while Deborah is responsible for the geography questions. Team captain Corey also answers a wide array of pop culture questions (as well as the first ice hockey question in trivia history), and Matt’s history knowledge was worth a solid chunk of points. Andy stays in his proverbial trivia lane, answering only sports questions.

Former Stats Department president Justin fills in almost all the gaps, including the most impressive answer of the night: What famous French boulevard cuts through the center of Paris? The team quickly discarded its first instinct, the Boulevard of Broken Dreams (shout out, Green Day), and Justin came through with The Avenue des ChampsÉlysées. The team discusses all questions as a group, but rarely uses the entire allotted three minutes to submit the answer card.

Answers to Trivia Questions:

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Student Profiles: 2016-17 Co-Presidents

Andy McCarthy

Middletown, OH

Degree Program: Master’s of Applied Statistics (M.A.S.)
Bachelor’s Degree:
B.S. in Aerospace Engineering
Alma Mater:
University of Notre Dame

Favorite Drink: Including alcoholic beverages, my favorite drink is chocolate milk, and nothing else is even close. You can drink it with breakfast, lunch, or dinner, it’s a great recovery drink, there are no negatives.

Favorite Movie: I like a lot of action movies, such as the Jason Bourne series, but if I was headed to a deserted island with one movie for the rest of my life, I’m taking Hoosiers, starring Gene Hackman. Rudy would definitely make the final round of cuts, but doesn’t quite overtake the magic of Hoosiers for me.

First Job: Cashier and “cook” at The Beach Waterpark in Mason, OH. I was in charge of frying french fries, placing trays of burgers in the oven, and scrubbing grease off the floors. I learned nothing about cooking, as evidenced by the chicken, pasta, and peanut butter toast diet that has carried me through graduate school thus far.

Favorite Stats Class: I’d have to say STAT 6450, the applied regression class. It seems like in the real world, every problem is solved using some kind of regression analysis. The theory is not that complicated, and it’s extremely powerful.

Outside of class, I spend a lot of time exercising. I have a hard time concentrating if I don’t spend an hour or so every day doing something physical, whether that be running, lifting, or playing pickup basketball, etc. In that same vein, the television that I watch tends to be live sports, for the most part. I watch a large volume of NFL and college football in the fall, NBA and college basketball in the winter, playoff MLB baseball in October, and whatever else is on.

After graduation, which I anticipate will be this coming May, I haven’t yet decided what area of statistics interests me the most. A role in sports analytics would be an interesting path for me, but combining my engineering background with statistics could also be a viable option. This past summer, I worked for a consulting company called the Perduco Group, where my project involved modeling the intentional and unintentional effects of precision-guided munitions with a professor of Operations Research at the Air Force Institute of Technology.

I’m excited about my second and final year in Columbus, and want to do everything I can as Co-President to make sure we’re doing a good job of giving students opportunities to get involved in the department. If you have any suggestions, feel free to e-mail me at mccarthy.352@osu.edu.


Nate Onnen


Hometown: Loveland, OH
Age: 23

Degree Program: PhD in Statistics
Bachelors Degree: B.S. in Mathematics
Alma Mater: Union College

Favorite Drink: My favorite drink by far is Coca-Cola. I would have to say that it is probably my greatest vice. This year, I tried giving it up for the Lenten season, as I had heard many of my friends did it and gave up pop forever. However, after those 40 days were up, I broke my fast by pounding about 3 Cokes at Easter dinner.

Favorite Movie: I like to think of myself to be a huge “pop-culture” buff, so many might expect my favorite movie to fall somewhere in the top 20 movies of all time lists, but my fave flick is something much more mainstream: School of Rock. I would not recommend watching it with me; I have been known to quote entire scenes at a time.

First Job: The first job that I ever had was as a rides operator at Kings Island amusement park. I worked in Kiddie Land (Planet Snoopy for those in the know, 16-time Golden Ticket award for best children’s amusement park, but I digress). By far one of the most fun jobs I have ever had, as I got to spend time in the sun, having short 30-second conversations with folks, and making people smile.

Favorite Statistics Class: It has been a small sample size (yes I made that joke) but I really enjoyed STAT 6570. I had never seen Bayesian Analysis, but that way of thinking, combined with the heavy programming involved in the course was really exciting and interesting.

When I’m not in the classroom, I’d love to say I was working out as much as my compadre, but I HAVE seen more movies than him so I’ve got that going for me. I’m a retired collegiate XC and Track and Field runner, and took that retirement a little bit too seriously last year, but I am currently training for the Columbus Half Marathon which will take place next month. As previously mentioned, I love absorbing pop culture (esp. Survivor, Season 3 starts on Wednesday!), but I also have been know to play silly songs on the guitar from time to time.

My plan for the next couple of years are to continue my studies here at OSU. I am unsure what kind of statistics, or what kind of work I will be doing in the future, but I have always kept an open mind, and I know that the right opportunity will rear its head, and I will be more than ready to tackle it!

Last year was an amazing first year in this Statistics Department, and I am looking forward to many more. This department is like a family (we spend far too much time together to use any other phrase) and as a co-President, I hope to create many opportunities to strengthen this bond that we all share. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to email me at onnen.2@osu.edu.