Spotlight on Research
Felix Famoye

Statistics Professor Carl Lee

Real-world applications take the mystery out of statistics

How many raisins are in a box? How well can your hand size predict your height?

Statistics professor Carl Lee asks his students these types of questions in order to engage them in learning the process of statistical investigation. With the support of a National Science Foundation grant, he has been helping reform statistics education by developing a real-time online database that allows students to learn statistics with actual data sets.

"Research in student learning shows that students typically find statistical concepts new and abstract and that many students are visual and practical-to-abstract learners," Lee said.

Real-time, hands-on activities help students and future teachers understand how statistics work in the real world. "These activities also teach them that you can't always trust what you read in the newspapers," Lee said. "Students must make sure they know what's behind the numbers."

Lee's interest not only is in understanding how students learn and finding ways to improve their learning but in applying his technical knowledge to solve problems. This led him to take part in Dow Chemical's Black Belt training in Six Sigma. His project – to improve the process of math placement of freshman students – is aimed at trying to reduce the percentage of students who fail in beginning classes. Lee says, "What is unique about Six Sigma is that it is a well-disciplined data-driven problem-solving methodology that requires you to carefully lay out what needs to be improved, to take into account the financial impact, to thoroughly investigate the root causes, to avoid jumping to conclusions or solutions, and to implement a plan for sustaining improvements." In 2007, Lee's Six Sigma project earned him first place during the First International Quality Improvement Project Competition in Education from the American Society of Quality.

Lee has taught at CMU since 1984. His papers on constrained optimal designs are considered trendsetters in the field of statistical research. He received CMU's President's Research Award in 2006 and was elected a member of the International Statistics Institute in recognition of his outstanding research in 1998. In 2008 Lee was chosen as a Fellow of the American Statistical Association and in 2009 he received the Outstanding Teaching Award from the CMU College of Science and Technology.