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Statisticians dedicate new building, celebrate 50 years

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of their department, Stanford statisticians have replaced one of the oldest buildings on campus with the newest addition to the emerging Science and Engineering Quad. On Saturday, Jan. 17, nearly 300 people crowded into a tent near the entrance of the almost-finished 14,000-square-feet copper-clad complex of classrooms and offices, to see it officially dedicated as the new Sequoia Hall. The building stands on the site of the old Sequoia Hall, which was hastily built as a temporary women's dormitory in 1891 and was last remodeled in 1951 when the statisticians moved in.

The celebration included a banquet and a two-day symposium featuring a national array of experts in statistics, most of them alumni of the department.

They were led by Albert Bowker, chancellor emeritus of both the University of California-Berkeley and the City University of New York, former dean of graduate studies at Stanford ­ and in 1948, the founding chair of Stanford's Department of Statistics. At the time, it was one of half a dozen free-standing statistics departments in the country. Bowker said he had his "fingerprints" on the founding of three or four other academic departments at Stanford, a dozen colleges at CUNY and the school of public policy at the university of Maryland, but "I am prouder of the formation of this department than anything else I have done."

Department chair David Siegmund said that from the beginning, graduates and faculty members in the Statistics Department have had an important impact on this emerging field. One of the first graduates was Lincoln Moses, professor emeritus and a leader in biostatistics. Gerald Lieberman, provost emeritus of Stanford, was a founder of operations research ­ the application of statistical principles to study industrial production and organization.

Among the alumni speaking at the symposium were James Ware (1970), dean of the Harvard School of Public Health, and faculty members from the University of Wisconsin (Grace Wahba, '66); Yale (Edward Tufte, '64); the University of Toronto (Nancy Reid, '79); Pomona College (Don Bentley, '62); and the University of Utah (Susan Horn, '69, also vice president of International Severity Information Systems, Inc.). Speaker Naihua Duan ('80) works with the Rand Corporation; Jon Kettenring ( '62) is with Bellcore; Terry Therneau ('84) is with the Mayo Clinic; and Henry Braun is a vice president with the Educational Testing Service.

Other invited speakers included Stephen Stigler, statistics professor at the University of Chicago; Nicholas Jewell, biostatistics professor at the University of California-Berkeley; and Stanford President Gerhard Casper, Provost Condoleezza Rice and John Shoven, dean of humanities and sciences.

The Science and Engineering Quad is a $130 million project, fueled by personal grants totaling $77.4 million from alumni William Hewlett and the late David Packard. The new Sequoia Hall also will have a state-of-the-art computerized classroom as part of a major gift of equipment for the university from Intel Corp.

In its years as the Statistics Department's headquarters, the old Sequoia Hall was a modest one-story building with a basement that professor Ingram Olkin credits as the secret of the students' success: "Once you survived that basement, you were prepared for life." The building opened in 1891 as a three-story women's dorm, Roble Hall; in 1917, the women decamped and took the name with them to the present Roble Hall. Sequoia's two upper stories were declared unsafe and removed in 1951. In 1996, when the old building and its outdated plumbing and wiring met the wrecking ball, members of the department held a party.

Olkin and Siegmund said with all its faults, the statisticians were fond of old Sequoia and worked with the architects to incorporate some of its better features into the new building. "Because it was a dorm, the halls were wide; the students were supposed to mingle," Olkin said. "So therefore we could mingle. We've always had visiting scholars from all around the world, and people would stand in the hallways and do science. It was a tremendous place for interaction."


By Janet Basu

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