The College of Science welcomes James Molyneux, who joined the Department of Statistics as an assistant professor in Fall 2018. Molyneux joined the department from UCLA, where he completed his dissertation on earthquake forecasting models based on statistical and computational methods.
In his new role, Molyneux teaches a wide variety of undergraduate and graduate courses, including online courses, to both statistics students and those from majors in engineering and biological sciences in the areas of data analytics, statistical methods and theory.
In addition to research on statistical seismology, Molyneux brings deep expertise in statistics pedagogy and education to OSU. As a doctoral student, he collaborated with his professors, high school educators, and other graduate students to create a project on statistics education funded by the National Science Foundation. The result is an innovative Introduction to Data Science (IDS) curriculum, which introduces high school students to data and statistics.
Part of a math-science partnership grant between UCLA and the Los Angeles Unified School District, IDS has been designated as a core math course and has been implemented in 14 southern California high school districts with further plans of scaling it to other school districts in the United States and even abroad.
A revolutionary approach to 21st-century mathematical learning, the year-long course engages students with real data, introducing statistical, computational and graphical tools for reasoning about the world.
Molyneux is excited about exploring the possibility of introducing Oregon high school students to data, statistics and coding through IDS. He had an opportunity to introduce the IDS program to the Oregon Department of Education during a Math Pathways seminar in December.
“There has been a lot of interest in changing how mathematics is taught in high schools in Oregon,” observed Molyneux. “What if we didn’t make every student learn calculus, and introduced them to data science instead?”
In recent times, educators have begun to question the longstanding tradition of high school mathematics curriculum, whose mainstays have been the much-feared algebra II and calculus courses, arguing in favor of multiple math pathways towards graduation and college, which would include new courses in data science, statistics and programming.
“I think students find a lot of utility and value in being shown how to type instructions to a computer in a coding language, hit enter and have something happen based on what they are writing. It teaches them a lot of fundamental statistical ideas and how to be a good citizen by learning to evaluate data critically and detect misrepresented graphs and data,” said Molyneux.
Molyneux eagerly looks forward to utilizing his experiences and background in statistics pedagogy in the classroom. His teaching is also guided by his own experience of transformation.
An indifferent student of mathematics during his undergraduate years at California State University, Fullerton, Molyneux’s academic interests underwent a radical metamorphosis when he crossed paths with a brilliant teacher in a calculus II class.
“I had barely passed calculus I, but my teacher — Kathy Lewis — changed everything for me. That’s when I thought for the first time math is for me.” The realization prompted him to add a major in mathematics along with his major in economics, which eventually led to several classes in statistics and a Ph.D. in statistics.
“Having come from a place where I did not initially like math, I really want to expose people to this field I fell in love with and why they may like it too. You can do powerful things with statistics; it has real-life applications. Enabling students to find meaning in statistics has a lot of value for me,” said Molyneux.
He is excited to collaborate with statistics colleagues and others on campus on several new projects. Some of these include creating software for hydrologists and joining forces with OSU’s Center for Genomics Research and Biotechnology to fashion a data science program for students from rural communities in Oregon, which will impart skills in data analytics and statistical applications in natural resources and agriculture.
“I am delighted to be here. The department has a data analytics program which is growing fast and it’s very fulfilling to be a part of it. The statistics faculty are incredible teachers and researchers. It has definitely been a highlight to get to do statistics with so many talented people,” said Molyneux.
A native of La Habra, California, Molyneux enjoys hiking, cycling and discovering the restaurants in Salem, Ore., where he resides. He harbors a dream to reach the summits of all the mountains in Oregon.