Ron Fricker, most recently a professor in the Operations Research Department at the Naval Postgraduate School in California, has joined Virginia Tech as a professor and head of the Department of Statistics in the College of Science.

Fricker brings more than 20 years of statistics experience, including work in both corporate and academic settings. He has conducted research on a wide variety of topics, including Gulf War illnesses, military recruiting and retention, disease detection and surveillance, and body armor testing. He is recognized for his research in quality control and statistical process control; statistical methods for biosurveillance, survey design and analysis; and data analytics and data science.

“It is an honor and a privilege to join the Virginia Tech faculty and to be a member of the statistics department. The department has a long and distinguished history. With roots that go back to 1935, it is one of the earliest statistics departments in the United States. Today, the department is internationally renowned with a world-class faculty who conduct cutting-edge research,” said Fricker.

Before joining the Naval Postgraduate School, Fricker was the associate director of the National Security Research Division and a senior statistician at the RAND Corp. While at RAND, he was responsible for overseeing a $40 million research portfolio conducted by the National Defense Research Institute, a federally funded research and development center.

"Virginia Tech is fortunate to have such a talented individual joining our faculty as a department head," College of Science Dean Lay Nam Chang said.

Eric Smith, the former statistics department head, said Fricker's connections and experience will provide new opportunities for funded research and collaboration. 

"Ron brings an expertise in biosurveillance and military applications, along with an enthusiasm for teaching," Smith said.

“It’s an exciting time to be a statistician,” Fricker explained. “Today big data are everywhere – and so are all other types of data. We statisticians are at the forefront of helping scientists, government policymakers, and private industry make sense of this tidal wave of data for the betterment of science and humankind. And, heck, it’s now cool to be a statistician. Just a few years ago Google’s chief economist said, 'The sexy job in the next 10 years will be statisticians.’ How great is that?”

He went on to say, “But statistics has always been cool – often just underappreciated. If you saw the movie ‘The Imitation Game’ then you have an idea of how important statistics can be, and you know something about the Virginia Tech statistics department. In it, one member of Alan Turing's code-breaking team was Jack Good. Professor Good was a member of the Virginia Tech statistics department for 27 years.”

Fricker’s most recent research focuses on developing new spatio-temporal algorithms for biosurveillance, which is useful for both early event detection and situational awareness, as well as methods for optimizing the performance of biosurveillance systems. He also is involved in research assessing the effects of individual augmentation deployment on naval personnel retention, exploring federal support to state and local organizations for domestic terrorism preparedness, and investigating the use of pesticides by U.S. forces during the Gulf War.

In recognition of his contributions to the field of statistics, Fricker is a Fellow of the American Statistical Association (ASA). He is also an elected member of the International Statistical Institute and a former chair of the ASA Section of Statistics in Defense and National Security. Fricker received the Richard W. Hamming Teaching Award in 2013 for his outstanding teaching, excellence in thesis supervision, and strength of contribution to Naval Postgraduate School students beyond the classroom.

"In spite of its reputation, learning and applying statistics can be a lot of fun,” said Fricker. "The famous statistician John Tukey once said, ‘The best thing about being a statistician is that you get to play in everyone's backyard.’ What he meant is that statisticians get to apply their skills to almost every type of problem imaginable. In my career, I’ve had the opportunity to work on public health problems, public policy problems, military problems, and problems in private industry.

“If you have an aptitude for mathematics, curiosity about a wide range of problems, and an interest in using data to solve problems, you should consider making statistics your major,” said Fricker.

Aside from his contributions in the classroom, Fricker is widely published in both statistical and professional journals for his research.

He is a contributing editor for “Interfaces,” a journal focused on operations research and management science and its impact on organizations around the world. He is also a member of the editorial boards for Statistics, Politics, and Policy and the International Journal of Quality Engineering and Technology.

Fricker received his bachelor’s degree with merit in mathematics from the United States Naval Academy, his master’s degree in operations research from The George Washington University, and a master’s degree and a doctorate in statistics from Yale University. After graduating from the Naval Academy he served as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy and subsequently has worked in private industry, the nonprofit sector, the U.S. government, and academia.