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Javier Rojo in front of columned building

Internationally renowned statistician joins faculty

By Srila Nayak

Javier Rojo, inaugural Korvis Professor of Statistics

Javier Rojo will join the Department of Statistics at Oregon State University as the inaugural Korvis Professor of Statistics in January 2017. He currently serves as chair of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Nevada at Reno where he holds the Seneca C. and Mary B. Weeks Endowed Chair in Statistics. As Chair, he provided the leadership and guidance to develop two new PhD proposals – one in Mathematics and one in Statistics and Data Science—that have been approved by the Board of Regents and are due to start during the Spring semester of 2017. He is also an adjunct professor at the MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and at the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering in Rice University.

“I am enthused over my imminent move to Oregon State University and the Statistics Department. The overall quality of the department is very good and the crop of young faculty is outstanding. The future of the department looks bright, and it is an honor and a pleasure to become part of their exciting future,” Rojo said.

Dr. Rojo has made significant research contributions in the areas of survival analysis, nonparametric function estimation, statistical decision theory, random matrices and dimension reduction techniques. He is an elected fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, the American Statistical Association, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the International Statistical Institute.

Prior to moving to Reno, Rojo was professor of statistics at Rice University from 2001 to 2013. He started his academic career at the University of Texas, El Paso, as an assistant professor in 1984 in the mathematical sciences department, where he received tenure and rose to the ranks of full professorship. By the time he left 17 years later in 2001, Rojo had set up and served as the founding director of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) funded Biostatistical Consulting Laboratory at El Paso, which today serves as a premier resource center for the statistical support of research in basic sciences, health sciences and other fields across campus and in the El Paso region.

“I am delighted at the historic nature of Dr. Rojo’s appointment as the first named professorship in the Department of Statistics,” said Sastry G. Pantula, dean of the College of Science.

“As a research statistician and a highly engaged teacher, Dr. Rojo has few equals. His commitment to enhancing diversity through mentoring and providing transformative research experiences to students will help us move toward our strategic goals," added Pantula.

“I am confident that he will advance and enrich the academic environment and student learning immeasurably within the department, in the College and throughout Oregon State University.”

Rojo’s hiring is part of ambitious changes and innovations within the statistics department. This fall, the Department of Statistics launched an online Master of Science and a Graduate Certificate in Data Analytics. The first of their kind in Oregon, the programs will draw upon OSU’s expertise in data science. Rojo is one of several science faculty hired in recent years to advance research in the mathematical, biological, statistical and computational sciences at OSU geared toward building the next generation of leaders in science.

“I am pleased to have Javier join our department. He is an internationally respected statistician who has received numerous honors and awards for his research and service to society. His commitment to enhancing diversity and student success is exemplary in the field of statistics,” said Virginia Lesser, Head of the Department of Statistics.

A highly dedicated teacher and scientific mentor, Rojo has had extraordinary success in recruiting, training and guiding underrepresented minority and economically disadvantaged students toward advanced degrees in mathematics and statistics.

Since 2003, he has been directing the Rice University Summer Institute of Statistics (RUSIS) which started as a Research Experiences for Undergraduate (REU) program at Rice University. It is famous for being the country’s first REU Program in the field of statistics. Rojo transferred the REU program to the University of Nevada at Reno when he moved there two years ago, where it is called RUSIS@UNR. The program has been funded and supported by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and the National Security Agency (NSA) for the last 14 years.

RUSIS@UNR conducts a 10-week intensive summer program for the study of statistics and its applications for a cohort of 12-15 students every year. Under Rojo’s guidance the program has been phenomenally successful: after 10 years the REU program reported that 85% of the undergraduates who attended the Summer Institute were admitted to Ph.D. programs around the country, with roughly 61% of students from underrepresented populations and 53% female.

This was achieved “through intensive statistics courses, close supervision of research projects, and visits to various research institutes and agencies in the area,” according to Rojo, who is responsible for the students’ computational training and research projects.

Owing to Rojo’s sustained efforts and leadership, the American Mathematical Society (AMS) selected RUSIS@UNR for its award “Programs that make a difference” in 2014. The RUSIS program was commended for serving “as a model program for others to emulate,” and praised for “its high level of commitment and successful efforts to improve diversity in the profession of mathematics in the United States.”

Rojo also received the Don Owen Award from the American Statistical Association in 2010. The award is presented to a statistician who embodies the three-fold accomplishments of excellence in research, statistical consultation and service to the statistical community.

Rojo’s commitment toward increasing student diversity and helping low-income, minority and first-generation students excel in mathematics and statistics has deep roots in his personal life. Born to working-class Mexican parents, Rojo—a first generation college student—completed his schooling in Ciudad Juárez. One of five children, Rojo worked "as a painter, a railway worker and a gas station attendant in high school" to help pay for some of his expenses, he writes in a SACNAS (Society for Advancement of Chicanos/Hispanics and Native Americans in Science) biography project.

Having excelled in mathematics at school, Rojo attended the University of Texas, El Paso, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in mathematics. He earned a master’s degree in statistics from Stanford University and a Ph.D. in statistics from the University of California, Berkeley, in 1984.

Rojo has collaborated extensively with statisticians in Mexico, specifically with faculty at the Center for Mathematical Research, and has organized several international conferences in his home country. He was a member of the NSF Division of Mathematical Sciences Committee of Visitors in 2013 where he chaired two subcommittees. He served in the NSF Division of Mathematical Sciences COV in 2016. He was appointed to the scientific advisory committee of the Mathematical Biology Institute at Ohio State University and the Statistical and Applied Mathematical Sciences Institute.

Rojo is the author of more than 75 research articles in top-ranked statistics journals and has edited four books, including the Selected Works of E.L. Lehmann by Springer-Verlag. He served as editor of the Journal of Nonparametric Statistics (2007-2010) and organizes and chairs The Lehmann Symposia in honor of renowned statistician Erich L. Lehmann, who was Rojo’s doctoral advisor at UC Berkeley.