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Mrudulla Gnanadesikan


Ph.D. Statistics 1966

Professor Emeritus, Fairleigh Dickinson University

Written by: Shannon Knapp, Ph.D. candidate in Statistics 

After obtaining a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Statistics and a Master’s degree in Statistics at Bombay University, Mrudulla Gnanadesikan began her doctorate studies at Case Western, but soon transferred to Purdue. Several of her classmates had also applied to Purdue and she knew Purdue’s Statistics Department had several distinguished faculty. Gnanadesikan recalls the "environment was supportive and friendly." But her time on the Purdue campus was brief. With her coursework completed, Gnanadesikan left the Purdue campus after only 15 months, completing her dissertation in absentia.

Gnanadesikan had been hired at Bell Labs in New Jersey, where her fiancé (and soon to be husband) worked. Bell Labs was a "Premiere research institute. It was great to be among very, very smart people. There was considerable freedom to pursue one’s research unobstructed, without anyone else interfering. They nurtured young researchers." After two years at Bell Labs, Gnanadesikan left to have and raise her two children. "There were very few women Ph.D.’s there at that time. There was no child care provided." But Gnanadesikan is clear, "It was my decision to stay home. I wanted to make sure I was there for them."

In 1978, after a ten-year hiatus, Gnanadesikan returned to work as a consultant for AT&T and as an assistant professor at Fairleigh Dickinson University. Gnanadesikan taught mathematics and statistics out of the Accounting Department in the Samuel Silberman College of Business. At that time, the University was growing. There was no business curriculum in New Jersey, but with many corporate headquarters, there was a definite need. Gnanadesikan was active and pushing for a cohesive curriculum in management science courses, including operations research and basic computing, so she became the founding chair of the Computer and Decisions Systems Department (now called the Department of Information Systems and Decision Sciences). For Gnanadesikan, the highlight of her experience founding the new department was being "able to have a cohesive curriculum. Not to have statistics treated as an afterthought." Believing that students are also citizens of the world, Gnanadesikan participated in developing a course on Cross-Cultural Perspectives, which became part of Fairleigh Dickinson University’s core curriculum.

At Fairleigh Dickinson University, Gnanadesikan found that many of the students were not ready for the college-level courses in math and statistics. "Their math skills were very poor." So she set about to improve students skills at the pre-college level. During the 1980’s, Gnanadesikan was a member of the American Statistical Association/National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (ASA/NCTM) Joint Committee on Curriculum in Statistics and Probability. She has also been a member of the New Jersey Mathematics Coalition’s Curriculum Framework Project Advisory Committe and a member of an NSF funded Quantitative Literacy Project, a decade-long project of the ASA and NCTM. The Quantitative Literacy Project members recognized not only that an understanding of data collection and interpretation is vital for informed decision making in today’s society, but also that "data analysis skills can help build connections between mathematics and other subjects and the school curriculum and to the world outside the classroom," (Richard Scheaffer, Quantitative Literacy Project). For her part, Gnanadesikan led Quantitative Literacy workshops for mathematics teachers and authored a textbook, Art and Techniques of Simulation (with R. Scheaffer and J. Swift, 1987, Dale Seymour Publications) for use with 7th to 12th graders. Gnanadesikan also authored Activity Based Statistics (with R. Scheaffer, A. Watkins, J. Witmer, and T. Erickson, 2nd edition, 2004, Key College Publications) with hands-on exercises intended to supplement probability and statistics courses from grade school to the college level. Gnanadesikan has even used these activities with her MBA students.

Gnanadesikan retired early in 1998, and now spends her time between Tucson, Arizona and Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts.

Mrudulla Gnanadesikan received the Statistics Outstanding Alumni Award from Purdue University, Department of Statistics in 2007.

A summary of the Quantitative Literacy Project findings and examples of the activities found in Gnanadesikan’s Activity Based Statistics can be found in "An Activity-Based Statistics Course" (1997, Journal of Statistics Education)

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