SAMSI Undergraduate Workshop inspires Student Growth


 Contributed by: Joanna Itzel Navarro, Statistics Undergraduate, University of California – Los Angeles

From May 22-26, 2016, I had the privilege of participating in the SAMSI (Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute) Interdisciplinary Workshop for Undergraduate Students.

In my quest for statistical research, I learned about SAMSI after coming across a paper on Markov chain Monte Carlo (MCMC) methods written by the Deputy Director of SAMSI, Sujit K. Ghosh.  A statistics alumnus from UCLA had previously mentioned SAMSI to me before, so when I came across Dr. Ghosh’s paper, I was compelled to find out more about this program he and Dr. Ghosh endorsed.  A few months later, I found myself at SAMSI learning about random walks and the Metropolis-Hastings algorithm from Dr. Ghosh himself.

The SAMSI Experience…
The day after arriving in North Carolina, the workshop commenced with a presentation by the Director of SAMSI, Dr. Richard Smith, on statistical reasoning in public and the complexity of small and large data sets. Throughout this first day of the workshop, we heard more data talks from different sources in order to investigate a variety of questions related to several exciting and emerging areas of research.  The research projects available to us ranged from the overall complex dynamic behavior of the brain and nervous system to measuring climate change through dolphin migration patterns. After the talks ended, the other students and I broke up into groups of 5-9 and were assigned to the research project we selected.  Before the first day was over, we got to know our group members and learned of all the different majors we were.  This miscellany of majors initially struck us as inexpedient, but throughout the week, we learned that bringing together minds from different backgrounds, qualifications, and experiences is key to effective problem-solving.

“When we found ourselves stumped, all it took was one group member to pose a provoking question or novel information to furnish the impetus that moved us forward.”

Reinforcing Effective Foundations in Statistics…
The following days entailed a wealth of R, MATLAB, presentations on giving effective presentations, and panels on graduate school programs and graduate school life. Additionally, we toured neighboring research institutions in North Carolina’s Research Triangle Park and reconnoitered the campus NC State University.

Research Group Projects…
While our morning and afternoon activities varied, our evenings remained dutifully allotted for our research projects and group work.  After an eventful day, we came back every evening to find ourselves huddled around desks and ripe for our research projects.


– Joanna Itzel Navarro presents findings on her Research Group’s Project at SAMSI Interdisciplinary Workshop for Undergraduate Students, May 22-26, 2016.                               (photo provided by Navarro)

My research group was under the guidance of Duke’s newest, congenial statistics postdoctoral fellow, Dr. Adam Jaeger, and our research examined how various environmental factors predict behaviors of bottlenose dolphins in the Northern North Carolina Estuarine System (NNCES) stock in Roanoke Sound, North Carolina.  Furthermore, our research sought to discover how water temperature relates to the presence of dolphins and whether a change in the frequency of dolphins could be indicative of climate change.

Learning Through Diverse Perspectives…
The amalgam of majors in our group was certainly a recipe for a wide range of questions and approaches, and we noticed this especially in the beginning.  This led us to adopt a multidisciplinary approach, and by the end of the program, we had molded ourselves into your quintessential, diverse research team. When we found ourselves stumped, all it took was one group member to pose a provoking question or novel information to furnish the impetus that moved us forward.  We were all challenged to work out our differences and use our diversions as opportunities; we learned to anticipate alternative viewpoints and to expect that reaching a consensus would take effort and strong reasoning.

The End…


– Joanna Itzel Navarro listens to one of many lectures presented at SAMSI Interdisciplinary Workshop for Undergraduate Students, May 22-26, 2016. (photo provided by Navarro)

On the last day of the workshop, every group presented their research findings.  The presentations were interactive and the questions were provoking.  After a series of group photos and goodbyes, we all parted our separate ways. This was not the end of things for us though. Currently, many of us remain connected.  Whether through our Facebook group we’re all part of or through email, we continuously share with each other and let each other know about other opportunities.

Participating in this interdisciplinary workshop has highlighted the role of mathematical sciences, particularly statistics, in solving a gamut of important problems.  Through the tours, presentations, group research, and interacting with erudite people from academia and industry, this workshop has imparted an educational experience that I cannot image receiving elsewhere. This was an indelible experience and a worthwhile way to spend my degrees of freedom.


– Group photo of students and mentors at the SAMSI Interdisciplinary Workshop for Undergraduate Students, May 22-26, 2016. (photo provided by Navarro)

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