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Texas A&M Statistical Services LP President Simon J. Sheather and Texas A&M Statistics' Jennifer South present the new company at the 2012 Joint Statistical Meetings, which coincidentally were focused on expanding statistics to serve an increasingly data-driven and dependent society.

COLLEGE STATION --

Texas A&M University statisticians have started a consulting company that they believe could be a model for how universities can help raise funds for cash-strapped academic departments while boosting their three-part teaching, research and service missions.

Its creators envision Texas A&M Statistical Services LP to be a nimble company that draws on the expertise of the university's statistics faculty members to help government and business tackle complex data mining, statistical and analytics problems. But don't expect tabulating surveys or conducting focus groups.

"Our aim is to do cutting-edge work," said Simon J. Sheather, the company's president as well as professor and head of the Texas A&M Department of Statistics. "We want to work with companies to help them implement the latest methods. Imagine your company has collected all of this unstructured text. We can actually help you analyze that and figure out what the key issues are."

Texas A&M owns 99 percent of the company, while Sheather and the other two founders -- Edward Jones, executive vice president, and Michael Speed, the company's chief scientist and a retired Texas A&M statistician -- own the remaining 1 percent. The trio invested $60,000 of their own money in the effort, which works like this: A company articulates its problem. Texas A&M Statistical Services identifies which Texas A&M statisticians are best suited to work on the challenge. Those statisticians receive compensation, as does the university.

Faculty members often use their expertise to do consulting. Sheather, for instance, had such a company while he was a professor at the University of New South Wales in Australia prior to coming to Texas A&M in 2005. The university received no benefit from the company, and Sheather owned the relationships, he said. However, in this new arrangement, the university financially benefits from the consulting work of its faculty members and owns the relationships with clients, Sheather said.

"It's a win-win for everyone," he said.

Sheather said the idea was born amid budget reductions during recent years. Such belt-tightening measures resulted in faculty and staff job losses while also forcing departments and units to adapt to limited resources and to find creative ways to do more with less.

"It's another way to generate funds," Sheather said. "If you think about the economy and people's attitudes toward higher education, it's hard to imagine we're going to get a lot of additional funds in the next 10 years."

Earlier this month, the company created a research assistantship through the Texas A&M Foundation to support a full-time student in the Department of Statistics. Jones said they hope to eventually expand the research assistantship to provide exposure to more real-world opportunities that help educate students as to how companies are actually using statistics.

"We're not in this as a typical business, where we want make a lot of money and retire," Jones said. "We're in it to bolster the department and the university. I think this is very novel. I don't know any other universities doing something like this. We get calls from other universities' department heads asking how we did this and telling us they would like to set up something similar."

So far, the company has been focused on building infrastructure and branding. Sheather now hopes to ramp up its marketing efforts by scheduling more visits with companies in Houston, Austin and Dallas; targeting various industries but especially focusing on oil and gas, healthcare and financial services. He said a contract has been signed with a well-known financial institution, but that it's too preliminary to name at this point.

Sheather, who is set to step down as department head later this year, said he wants the Texas A&M Department of Statistics -- the largest statistics department in the Lone Star State -- to be a powerful "one-stop shop" to serve the educational needs of students and the real-world needs of government and business, and that Texas A&M Statistical Services fits with that goal.

"If you want to train the next generation of quantitatively able people, we have a distance master's of science in statistics," Sheather said. "We also have a master's of science in analytics that's taught in Houston and beamed live across the country. Or if you have a problem you need solved in the next several months, we now have a consulting company where we can put our best and brightest on it to help you solve that problem."

To learn more about Texas A&M Statistical Services LP and related offerings, visit the company's website at http://www.tamstatservices.com.

For more information about the Texas A&M Department of Statistics, go to http://www.stat.tamu.edu/.

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About 12 Impacts of the 12th Man: 12 Impacts of the 12th Man is an ongoing series throughout the year highlighting the significant contributions of Texas A&M University students, faculty, staff and former students on their community, state, nation and world. To learn more about the series and see additional impacts, visit http://12thman.tamu.edu/.

-aTm-

Contact: Shana K. Hutchins, (979) 862-1237 or shutchins@science.tamu.edu or Dr. Simon J. Sheather, (979) 845-3141 or sheather@stat.tamu.edu

Patel Vimal

  • Groundbreaking Analysis

    Texas A&M statisticians recently started a consulting company, Texas A&M Statistical Services LP, envisioned as a model for universities seeking to help raise funds for cash-strapped departments while also boosting their three-part teaching, research and service missions. (Credit: iStock.com.)

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