Professor teaches statistics and data science aboard USS George H.W. Bush

This article originally appeared on July 13 in The Avenger, a publication of the USS George H.W. Bush (named after the former president, a 1948 graduate of Yale). It was written by MCSN Jennifer M. Kirkman.

One by one, sailors of all ranks begin filing in to the classroom. Blank
notebooks, pens, and freshly sharpened pencils are sprawled across the wooden
desks, an unexpected scene for a combat deployment.

Just as everyone gets settled in, Jay Emerson strides forward, directing
attention to the middle of the classroom.
He is the director of graduate studies in the Department of Statistics and Data
Science at Yale University, and he’s teaching a workshop on the aircraft carrier
USS George H.W. Bush (CVN 77).

Using open discussions and “hands-on” practical exercises, the “Life in the Sea
of Statistics and Data Science” workshop hopes to address real-life scenarios and
give sailors the opportunity to learn something new.

An instructor stands before a class of men and women in uniform
Jay Emerson (left) said he enjoys the sense of satisfaction that comes from helping his students understand a topic that might seem difficult at first.

“Anything that someone can do to better understand anything that’s
quantitative is useful,” explained Emerson. “These are topics that I think everyone
understands, but doesn’t stop to think about formally.”

Emerson believes a better understanding of randomness and uncertainty
address important, real-life questions that may even be related to the work that sailors do aboard the ship.

Your comfort level with margin of error has a lot to do with the consequences,”
said Emerson. “If your job has the potential to put someone’s life at risk, you
would like the margin of error to be so ridiculous that the chance of a problem
becomes zero, or close to zero.”

Although Emerson has visited other ships, this is his first time aboard an
aircraft carrier.

It’s overwhelming in a way just because everything is so new,” said Emerson.
“I’m not used to walking down a passageway and coming out into the hangar
[bay] with a bunch of F/A-18s and helicopters and just simply being allowed to
walk around as I am. It’s amazing.”

Today Emerson teaches at all levels around the world, including the Census
Bureau, Federal Trade Commission, Government Accountability Office, and
West Point, where he helped other instructors develop new aspects to their

It’s so rewarding to be able to work with people to help them through
something that might be difficult at first,” said Emerson. “Seeing the sense of
achievement when things fall into place at the end of the day or at the end of the
class is something I absolutely wouldn’t give up.”
Emerson hopes to accomplish different goals depending on the individual
students attending his workshop.

For students that have studied statistics before, I tend to find that one course,
or even two, isn’t really enough,” remarked Emerson. “A lot of these topics take
some time to sink in and are better understood from different perspectives, so
maybe I’m offering a different perspective on some of the same topics that will
give students a better understanding of the material.”

Emerson wants the workshop to be just as valuable to those who have never
studied statistics, commenting that the course is designed to simply broaden
horizons and introduce students to the topics discussed.

I just hope they have a good time,” said Emerson. “I know there are a lot of
students that just maybe didn’t have a great experience in a lot of their classes,
and it might not have been their fault. It might have been the fault of the teacher
who just wasn’t as excited about their job. I just hope that they realize that school
might actually be okay after all, and that they would be willing to consider it now
or in the future. That would be a success for me.”

Science & Technology