Interview with Jemma Lorenat, Assistant Professor of Mathematics and Keely Nguyen ’22


Keely Nguyen ’22: Hi, Pitzer community. I’m Keely and I have Professor Lorenat today.

Professor Lorenat: I’m going to be talking about statistics. I’m teaching a social justice class this fall. And I met Keely in the spring teaching a quantitative research methods class at CASA in Ontario. And Keely has been self-designing a very cool major, and she’s going to share it with you.

Keely: I’m self-designing a major in public health justice and policy where I hope to close the health disparities among communities of color. And Jemma, what are you looking forward to most in your class?

Professor Lorenat: There are three things I’m super excited about with respect to current events and teaching Introductory Statistics, and these are in no particular order. So one thing is the importance of randomized placebo controlled trials with respect to developing new vaccines, for instance, or treatments. And this is something that’s all over the news right now. There’s tons of peer-reviewed and not peer-reviewed medical studies that are circulating, having to do with Coronavirus. And I think it’s important for us to be informed consumers of that data and understand what makes the study better or worse than another study. And a lot of that has to do with basic statistical experimental design.

Another thing I’m really excited about teaching is something that students aren’t crazy about, but it’s super important, which is conditional probability. And that connects to current events with respect to false positives and false negatives. If you’re doing universal testing of a fairly rare condition, how likely is it that a positive test results mean you actually have the condition, and it’s actually very unintuitive. And so it’s important to know the data behind that because it can be quite surprising what those values are.

And then finally, I’m super, super excited to talk about polling methods. This is something that people don’t trust, since the 2016 election and I want to dive into simple random samples, and how those can be approximated for polling and whether polls are reliable and how reliable they are. So those are the three things I’m super excited about.

Keely: I’m excited to see what your students will do with it, because I feel like I learned a lot from just like our research method through like a social justice lens and how we’re able to learn about like, what’s reliable data? How do we measure data? How do we collect it, but also like, how can we trust like, different datas and interpret it for ourselves?

Professor Lorenat: Yes, exactly. The main point is this idea of giving students the tools they need to interpret things for themselves. And even though it’s one semester statistics, you can really gain a lot of knowledge that’ll make you an informed media consumer when we have charts and graphs all over the place. So thank you, Keely, for taking time out of your day to interview me.

Keely: Thank you, Professor. I hope that the Pitzer community enjoys your class. And we’re so excited to see what you’ll do.