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William Stout


Professor Emeritus, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

M.S. 1964, Ph.D. 1967

Research Professor, Learning Sciences Research Institute, University of Illinois, Chicago

Written by: Meghan Honerlaw, M.S. candidate in Statistics

William Stout didn’t always know he was destined for Statistics. He began his college education as an engineering student at Pennsylvania State University. As a college senior preparing for graduation in the spring of 1962, Stout realized that he was drawn to mathematics and not engineering as a profession.

After this first of many epiphanies in Stout’s life, he decided to pursue a higher degree in the Department of Mathematics at Purdue University. It was during his tenure as a graduate student that the Department of Statistics was formed as part of the Division of Mathematical Sciences under the direction of Shanti S. Gupta. After earning his M.S. in Statistics in 1964, Stout pursued a Ph.D. in Probability Theory. Studying under Dr. Yuan-Shih Chow, he produced an impressive thesis on the "law of the iterated logarithm for martingales," and earned his Ph.D. in 1967.

Not only were the academic lessons invaluable to Stout’s future, but the nurturing spirit of the Department and its faculty led him to be a successful professor and advisor to his own students. Stout recalls being inspired by courses taught by Paul Holmes and Stephen M. Samuels and mentored by Lou Cote and Shanti S. Gupta. After graduation Stout took a position as an Assistant Professor of Mathematics at the University of Illinois as a pure mathematician. Until the late 1970’s, Stout, sometimes working with his best friend Walter Philipp, produced many impressive probability convergence theorems and a new martingale-based convergence method. This last accomplishment done jointly with Philipp launched Philipp’s career in probability and conversely plunged Stout into his own "professional midlife crisis".

It was toward the late 70’s that Stout began realizing that being a theorem-proving pure mathematician is like being an artist. While the research was interesting and necessary, Stout realized that he was searching for research that would impact the "real world." Fortunately, it was during this time that Stout won a Faculty Study in a Second Discipline Award from the University of Illinois. With this award, Stout decided to enter into the Department of Psychology for a year. Stout began a new career in psychometrics, the application of statistics to the study of psychology and education (also called educational measurement).

In 1980 Stout transferred to the Department of Statistics at the University of Illinois to begin his second career in educational measurement. He attributes the ease of transition from pure mathematics to applications of statistics to his expansive coursework at Purdue in math, probability, and statistics. After transferring departments, Stout went on to form a departmental laboratory and over several years had seventeen Ph.D. students exploring applications of probability and statistics to educational measurement. His own research has resulted in statistical methods for measuring test bias and using standardized testing as a measure of what key skills students are or are not learning in the classroom. He is proud of his students’ accomplishments: four national thesis awards, Early Career Award winner, Best Applied Measurement Research winner, and Psychometrika Editor. Not only have his students been recognized for their accomplishments, Stout has been as well. Stout received an award for the best three-year "technical contribution to the field of educational measurement" from the National Council on Measurement in Education, was elected Fellow of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, and served as President of the Psychometric Society, 2001-2002.

Stout retired from the University of Illinois in 2001, but continues research with University of Illinois researcher Lou DiBello. As of late, he is working on further development of skills diagnosis, which involves testing during the educational experience (instead of after) as a measurement of where the students need the most help. He would like to transform standardized testing into also being a formative teaching tool. Stout is deeply satisfied that his work appears to be having an impact on the "real world".

Stout is an example of how statistics has many applications. To current students, Stout encourages, "The field of statistics, more than ever, is in demand and has moved in many directions. No matter the time, there is always a good job market; whether in industry, government, or academia."

In closing we note that Stout and his wife Ann have a deeply satisfying personal life. When time permits they enjoy travel and he in particular enjoys wildlife photography. He has two adult children, interestingly one being an associate dean in charge of the Disability Resource Center at Purdue, three adult step children, and nine grandchildren.

Dr. William Stout received the College of Science Distinguished Alumni Award from Purdue University, College of Science in 2009.

To read more Alumni Profiles, please visit our Alumni Profiles archive. 

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