Meet A Deac

A new week means a new Meet A Deac! And today we have a treat, as we get to hear from another faculty member: Kenneth Berenhaut of the Department of Statistical Sciences.

Wake Forest professor in the department of Statistical Sciences, Kenneth Berenhaut.

Kenneth, it is nice to meet you and to hear more about your Wake Forest experience. Let’s start at the beginning: please tell me your job title and how long you have been at Wake Forest. My title is Professor in our brand-new Department of Statistical Sciences. This is my 23rd year at Wake.

Tell me a little about your educational background. I am from Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada (north of North Dakota). I obtained undergraduate and masters degrees in Mathematics from the University of Manitoba, and a masters and doctorate from the University of Georgia in Athens, GA. The department was actually Mathematics and Astronomy at Manitoba when I was there, and I have a minor in Canadian Studies 🙂

In layperson’s terms, what do you do in your job? I teach courses and conduct research, both of which often have some relation to probability. I love sharing knowledge and discovery with others, especially students at all levels. This is also an exciting time, as we continue to develop programs and work with students in the statistical sciences.

How would you describe your research to someone (like me!) who knows nothing about your field? I have quite deep interests in ideas related to randomness and chance. This holds particularly when there are meaningful connections to real applications across disciplines. I am currently developing approaches for understanding and revealing structure in data that leverage perspectives from the social and physical realm. In a recent paper, we used social ideas, akin to how relationships and distance interact in rural versus urban settings to understand similarities in languages and cultures from around the world.

I know there was a news article about that research earlier this year:Where mathematics and a social perspective meet data.” I really like the way this graphic shows the clustering of those languages.

graphical representation of some of the clustering of data that Kenneth Berenhaut has used in his statistical sciences research

What excites you most about your field or your research, and how does that translate into your classes or lab? There is so much yet to be discovered! I love sharing discovery with students and have often brought ongoing research of my own and others into the classroom. In fact, I included a thank you to my students from recent classes in the acknowledgements of a paper that appeared in January in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

What would you say to a student considering a major in your department? Wow. This is an amazing and exciting time for folks interested in data of all sorts. Whether you have interests in medicine, economics, mathematics, physics, philosophy, psychology, computer science, or any field for that matter, you can find important related work and connections in our department. 

What is your favorite class to teach, and why? That’s a tough one. There are so many great courses to teach. I like to move through the rotation a bit, but Probability, Multivariate Statistics and Stochastic Processes are among my favorites. I also find myself invigorated by opportunities to interact with early-career students in our introductory courses.

Ken Berenhaut with students

What do you like best about working at Wake? The caring for the individual. When I was on the job market in 2000, I wanted to find somewhere where everyone is important. The appreciation for engaging with students alongside cutting-edge research is quite special!

Now it is time for the bonus questions!

Favorite movies/TV shows/Netflix, etc.: I was quite happy to see the results from the recent Emmy awards. Michael Keaton was compelling in Dopesick, and Amanda Seyfried did impressive work in The DropoutTed Lasso is quite enjoyable. From earlier I’ll mention The Queen’s Gambit, Halt and Catch Fire and The Good Place. A student recommended that last one; it was quite interesting.

Halt and Catch Fire (tv show promo poster)

I very much enjoy cinema where the plot revolves around ideas, discovery and creativity. I recently watched the National Geographic Genius series focused on Albert Einstein.  I grew up intently listening to CBC radio, including the inspiring longstanding nightly show Ideas, hosted at the time by the absolutely remarkable Lister Sinclair. I also greatly appreciate humour, in particular when it is subtle and clever! I can literally cry when something is clever enough; my father is that way, too!

Lister Sinclair

Website(s) you frequent: The web has so many excellently developed videos and articles dealing with science, technology and history. The ColdFusion channel of Dagogo Altraide is a nice example. Adam Reader’s Professor of Rock channel is enjoyable and informative. I am fascinated by stories of brilliance in science, music, art, and other endeavors!

What do you enjoy doing when not at work? I enjoy swimming, rollerblading, and playing any sort of hockey! And reading and hearing about fascinating discoveries, new and old, in all sorts of disciplines. I’ll also mention a striking affinity for the bright sounds of music with jangly arpeggiated guitars.

REM album cover for Murmur

Something most people don’t know about you: I test as an INFP on the Myers Briggs personality test, but I think many could guess that! Also, we have two pet birds – an English budgie and a Stafford canary.

An English Budgie (bird)

What didn’t I ask that you’d want to answer? No questions, but this was fun! Thanks for the opportunity.

Many thanks to you, Kenneth, for being this week’s Meet A Deac, and for all you do for Wake Forest in and out of the classroom.

Reminder: you can read past Meet A Deacs here.

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