WFU to introduce middle and high schoolers to careers in statistics and data science  

Middle and high school students can discover opportunities for careers in statistics and data science during a free one-day event at Wake Forest University.

Called Florence Nightingale Day, the event will take place April 22 from 1-4:30 p.m. in Manchester Hall.

The goal of the program is to engage kids, promote future career opportunities, and celebrate the contributions of women to these fields.

“All students 13 years old and up can participate,” said Lucy D’Agostino McGowan, assistant professor of statistics at Wake Forest. “We want participants to see that this is a career for everybody, regardless of who you are or what you look like, and therefore are intentional in our programming about uplifting women in the spirit of Florence Nightingale Day to help provide representation for women in STEM.”

Florence Nightingale Day was launched in 2018 at a handful of higher education institutions across the country. Nightingale is famously known as a pioneer in nursing who modernized the field. But she also had a lot of impact on early statistics, especially in medicine. During the Crimean War, she applied quantitative and visualization data techniques in her work to help improve the outcomes of wounded soldiers who were hospitalized. Her contributions brought public health to the forefront.

The event is cosponsored by Wake Forest’s Department of Biostatistics and Data Science on the Medical School campus and the Department of Statistical Sciences on the Reynolda Campus. 

“Data science and statistics are growing. It's everywhere, every machine learning and AI article that you see in the news right now are related to that growth. We want to expose kids to career possibilities early on so they can see how data science and statistics really apply to their everyday lives.” David Kline, assistant professor at Wake Forest School of Medicine

“The people who have strong quantitative abilities, I think, are really getting a seat at the table these days and often end up setting the narrative in a lot of ways, because we’re moving to such a quantitatively focused society in general,” added D’Agostino McGowan. “So, making sure that those leaders also come from diverse perspectives is important.”

According to a recent report, few students take statistics before college. In 2022, just under 217,000 of approximately 15.4 million U.S. high schoolers took Advanced Placement (AP) statistics.

A key factor in sparking interest in these fields is to make learning fun. There are lots of hands-on activities. Students can rotate to different learning stations. There’s a “stat-a-pult”, similar to a catapult where students can throw an object and learn about experimental design, randomness and other statistical concepts. There’s even a data visualization space where kids can make charts, pictures and figures to help communicate data to people in a meaningful way.

“We hope that Florence Nightingale Day can open students’ eyes earlier to the multitude of paths unlocked by training in statistics and other data-driven topics,” said Sarah Lotspeich, one of the organizers and assistant professor in the Department of Statistical Sciences. “In particular, this event is designed to welcome underrepresented people into the field of statistics through hands-on activities, a panel of professional women, and an immersive experience on our college campus.” 

Near the end of the event, a panel discussion with field experts will take place.

Three women speakers representing different careers in statistics (industry, academia, and government) will talk about their experiences with students: Dana Cella, a senior statistical scientist at United Therapeutics Corporation (WFU ’15) – Felicia Simpson, an associate professor of statistics and chair of the Department of Mathematics at Winston-Salem State University – and Kristen Foley, a research statistician for the Environmental Protection Agency. 

Registration is encouraged for the event. Families can find out more here.

Media members are invited to attend. Parking is available in lots M,C, G or E. For more information or to schedule an interview contact Keri Brown:, 336-758-4442 or C: 336-971-5402.

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