From C.R. Rao to Award-winning Student: Statistics takes spotlight in SPHHP

Published May 26, 2023

Statistics scholars at the peak and beginning of their careers have garnered some significant accolades in the past month.  

C.R. Rao.

C.R. Rao,  a research professor in SPHHP's Department of Biostatistics since 2010, was awarded the 2023 International Prize in Statistics, considered the field's Nobel Prize.

Dubbed “a living legend” of statistics, C.R. Rao brought nine decades worth of knowledge to UB in 2010, when he was named a research professor in the Department of Biostatistics, School of Public Health and Health Professions. He recently added to his long list of awards by being named the recipient of the 2023 International Prize in Statistics, considered the Nobel Prize for the field.

“Dr. Rao’s pioneering scholarship has transformed not only the theory and methods of statistics but has wide-ranging practical applications in areas ranging from risk analysis and weather prediction to medical diagnosis and genetics,” says UB President Satish K. Tripathi, who holds two master’s degrees in the discipline.

In announcing the award, the International Prize in Statistics noted Rao’s “work more than 75 years ago continues to exert a profound influence on science.” It added: “In his remarkable 1945 paper published in the Bulletin of the Calcutta Mathematical Society, Calyampudi Radhakrishna (C.R.) Rao demonstrated three fundamental results that paved the way for the modern field of statistics and provided statistical tools heavily used in science today.”

“In awarding this prize, we celebrate the monumental work by C.R. Rao that not only revolutionized statistical thinking in its time, but also continues to exert enormous influence on human understanding of science across a wide spectrum of disciplines,” says Guy Nason, chair of the International Prize in Statistics Foundation.

Rao will receive the award and its $80,000 prize this July at the International Statistical Institute World Statistics Congress.

student Samiha Islam.

Statistics student Samiha Islam won the Harry S. Truman Scholarship and was surprised in class with the news. There to congratulate Samiha (second from left) were President Satish K. Tripathi (left), SPHHP Dean Jean Wactawski-Wende (second from right) and academic advisor H Fogarty (right).

With statistics an informing principle of her work, Samiha Islam is UB’s second-ever winner of the Harry S. Truman Scholarship, a nationally competitive award for college juniors for leadership in public service. Islam is a rising senior in SPHHP’s Statistics Program, and also studies in the College of Arts and Sciences’ Health and Human Services Program. An anti-racism activist and community organizer whose work centers around building empathy across backgrounds and belief systems to forge a more equitable, tolerant world, Islam is one of 62 scholars in the U.S. chosen for the scholarships.

Educational institutions nominate students for the Truman Award based on their leadership, public service and academic achievement. Islam will receive a $30,000 scholarship toward graduate school and the opportunity to participate in a professional development program in Washington, D.C., to help prepare for a career in public service leadership.

Islam’s community activism started when she founded during high school a festival rallying refugees and allies to challenge xenophobic and Islamophobic discourse. She has since organized student conferences on interfaith dialogue, instructed seminars on intersectional and multiracial coalition-building, and co-authored grants to support food equity and prison reentry services. Islam is also a diversity advocate in UB’s Intercultural and Diversity Center, facilitating critical dialogues on privilege, politics and social justice for a more inclusive student body.

Her studies in statistics dovetail with her activism: “Statistics can connect seemingly random observations to systemic patterns,” she said. “I believe that oppressive conditions like poverty, hunger, homelessness and even diseases like COVID-19 have been distributed systemically, not randomly.

“I soon learned that two hands are not enough to fix the shortcomings of entire systems because our systems are not simply broken; they’re built that way,” she added.

SPHHP Department of Biostatistics Interim Chair Jeffrey Miecznikowski, PhD, noted the significance of the awards: "Our department is honored to be a link between the recipients of two major honors: Professor C.R. Rao, recipient of the International Prize in Statistics for his deeply impactful contributions to our discipline, and Samiha Islam, a student in our undergrad program, recipient of the Truman scholarship, who is on track to do groundbreaking work in our field in ways that were hardly possible to its founders. On behalf of UB Biostats, we wish them both heartfelt congratulations on these distinguished recognitions."