According to Professor John Stevens, Utah State University’s Department of Mathematics and Statistics is no sausage factory.
“We can’t push students into one end, grind them up and expect them to all come out the same at graduation,” Stevens says. “Our department values teaching and mentoring, as well as research excellence, and provides individualized guidance for each student.”
The statistician and USU alum is the new interim head of the department, which offers undergraduate degree programs in mathematics and statistics, mathematics and statistics education, and actuarial science, along with a variety of minor options including biomathematics; as well as graduate degree programs in pure and applied mathematics, statistics, data analytics, industrial mathematics, mathematics education and interdisciplinary studies.
Stevens, who most recently served as the department’s director of graduate studies, says the department is a university hub of teaching – most Aggies, after all, take a least one math course during their academic career – along with interdisciplinary research.
“One of the reasons I love working at Utah State is having opportunities to contribute to work on research across disciplines,” he says. “Our students and faculty have many opportunities to work with researchers from a wide range of fields, and really make key contributions in those fields through the application and development of the best mathematical and statistical methods.”
In addition, Stevens sees part of the department’s mission as providing greater learning access to Aggies in all majors.
“One of the great resources we add to Utah State is our Aggie Math Learning Center, which provides free mathematics and statistics tutoring and learning resources to all USU students,” he says. “We’re particularly proud of the lessons we’ve learned during the pandemic, like how to effectively provide remote support, both in the center as well as through individual courses. This kind of support, like remote office hours and recorded materials, will continue to benefit students, even as we transition back to in-person services.”
Stevens says the department also provides an outstanding level of teaching, from graduate students to seasoned faculty.
“We’ve cultivated a culture that fosters teaching excellence,” he says. “We provide extensive instructional training to our graduate students. Teaching is not an afterthought; it’s a discipline in which we want our students to thrive.”
To that end, the department provides workshops and discussion groups for graduate students and faculty to hone their teaching techniques and share ideas.
“We’re proud that our department’s faculty and graduate students have garnered many of the university’s top teaching awards,” Stevens says. “Our culture of teaching excellence stands out among mathematics and statistics departments across the nation.”
Coming out of a challenging academic year and anticipating continued pandemic challenges in the coming year, Stevens says he’s confident in faculty, staff and students’ abilities to weather unpredictable terrain.
“We have a strong community,” he says. “Our goals include increasing accessibility and removing barriers to student success, while we build on our history of excellence in mathematics and statistics teaching and research. Our department has a lot of great opportunities for growth in several exciting research areas.”
A Cache Valley native, Stevens earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Utah State in 2000. He continued his studies at Purdue University, where he completed a master’s degree in mathematical statistics in 2002 and a doctoral degree in 2005. He joined USU’s faculty in 2006 and spent a sabbatical year in the Division of Epidemiology, Department of Internal Medicine at the University of Utah in 2016-2017, working on statistical methods for colorectal cancer research.
Stevens succeeds Professor James “Jim” Powell, who led the department following previous head Chris Corcoran’s 2019 appointment as David B. Haight Endowed Professor and head in USU’s Department of Data Analytics and Information Systems in the Huntsman School of Business.