Morris Named Chair of Statistics

By Ed Adcock

Statistics is the second Iowa State department Max Morris has led. He got practice serving as interim chair of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, a smaller department where he had a joint appointment.

“While I was over there I got a taste of the business of spinning two dozen plates at the same time and having a calendar that reflects that,” Morris says. “I learned quickly that the key to being able to do that is having a really great office staff to take care of you. Other than that, my time at ISU has been as a standard, egghead academic who typically has a very standard calendar.”

Morris joined Iowa State 15 years ago, after a stint at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the U.S. Department of Energy facility in Tennessee.

He was attracted to ISU by the quality of the statistics department, but also by the presence of the DoE’s Ames Lab. Much of his research funding has come through his affiliate appointment at the lab. Morris says he “grew up” at land grants, with an undergraduate degree at Oklahoma State University, of which Iowa State reminds him, and graduate degrees at Virginia Tech.

His background is primarily in the physical sciences and engineering. Designing experiments is his research specialty.

“Experimental design is fully understood in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences because that’s a big piece of what happens in the collaborations that our people have with the ag faculty,” he says.

Morris calls work with CALS an “integral part” of the statistics department, which is co-administered with the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

Since its creation, the department has collaborated with the Experiment Station, and has been active in the growth of research in the biosciences field. “We’re pleased to have the relationship with agricultural and life science and I don’t see anything but continued growth in that area,” Morris says. “It offers a lot of exciting opportunities for our students and faculty.”

Iowa State’s statistics program has the distinction of being the first organized in the nation.

Although North Carolina State University had the first statistics “department” in the country, ISU had the first organized statistical unit, called the Stat Lab. In the early years of applied statistics the biggest “customer” was agriculture and that’s where the support for it came from, Morris says.

“So because of the history of this department and because Iowa State is such a dominant force in ag education and research, it makes perfect sense for us to be connected to the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.”

Joe Colletti, CALS’ senior associate dean, welcomed Morris as chair of the Department of Statistics.

“We have a long and deep history of collaborative agricultural and natural resource research discovery and engagement with colleagues in statistics and the Stat Lab, and look forward to that relationship continuing and growing,” Colletti says.

Morris plans to teach one course each fall, a master’s level experimental design course for which he wrote the textbook, and would like to maintain part of his research as well. It will depend on honing his time management skills.

Right now he is looking forward to his five-year term guiding the department.