Ron Fricker, the senior associate dean in the Virginia Tech College of Science and a professor in the Department of Statistics, has been named to the National Academies’ Board on Mathematical Sciences and Analytics (BMSA).

A statistician, Fricker’s research focuses on the performance of various statistical methods for use in disease surveillance, and statistical process control methodologies more generally. He is the author of “Introduction to Statistical Methods for Biosurveillance” and co-author of “Monitoring the Health of Populations by Tracking Disease Outbreaks: Saving Humanity from the Next Plague,” which was published earlier in February 2020 just as the COVID-19 pandemic first hit the United States.

Since then he has shared his expertise in the media, discussing the pandemic’s impact in the United States and around the world, talking to Newsweek, The Boston Globe, Bloomberg News, ABC’s Washington, D.C., affiliate WJLA, as well as WVTF, WFIR, The Verge, The Guardian, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and The Wall Street Journal. He also has written numerous columns on the pandemic for the website The Conversation, as well as the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and multiple journal papers.

At Virginia Tech, Fricker has applied his disease surveillance expertise by co-leading a multidisciplinary team of Virginia Tech faculty, students, and analysts who spent the summer building models to help the university understand how COVID-19 could impact the campus. Along with other Virginia Tech faculty experts, he also serves as an advisor to the New River Valley Regional Safety and Health Task Force established to help guide local governments, health systems, and businesses as they respond to COVID-19.  

“In less than a year, the COVID-19 pandemic has spread to all corners of the globe and turned normal life upside down. Yet, we can beat it with the rigorous application of science and good public policy,” Fricker said. “This is just one reason among many that I am honored to serve on the Board of Mathematical Sciences and Analytics. The BMSA helps foster the development and application of the mathematical sciences to help address humanity’s greatest challenges.”

Virginia Tech Executive Vice President and Provost Cyril Clarke added, “As a member of the National Academies’ Board on Mathematical Sciences and Analytics, Ron’s expertise in statistics, data science, and disease surveillance will help the National Academies provide critical advice to policy makers across a broad range of issues of national and international importance. Ron’s work here at Virginia Tech and with the board will positively impact the human condition through the application of science and technology, and advance our land-grant commitment to serve our local and global communities, both today and post-pandemic.”

Established in 1984 by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the BMSA’s mission is to advance knowledge in the field by organizing workshops, webcasts, roundtables, and in-depth studies that explore key issues and applications within the mathematical sciences.

It also provides expertise drawn from a wide range of disciplines to conduct independent and rigorous assessment of science, engineering, medical, and policy issues in the service of national interest. BMSA members represent a wide range of mathematical sciences, including core mathematics, applied mathematics, statistics, operations research, scientific computing, machine learning, and risk analysis, according to the group’s website.

Among its more national profile tasks: provide actionable mathematical advice to policymakers and support the health of the mathematical sciences ecosystem and a robust educational pipeline.

“The National Academies is one of the nation’s premier scientific organizations, providing independent, objective advice to policymakers in the pursuit of advancing science, engineering, and medicine for the benefit of society,” said Sally C. Morton, dean of the College of Science. “We are very proud that Ron has been selected for this important role in helping to guide the National Academies’ mathematical sciences agenda.”

Fricker joined Virginia Tech in 2015 as head of the Department of Statistics. He is a Fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a Fellow of the American Statistical Association, a former chair of the ASA Section of Statistics in Defense and National Security, and an elected member of the International Statistical Institute.

Fricker earned his bachelor’s degree with merit in mathematics from the United States Naval Academy in 1982, his master’s degree in operations research from The George Washington University in 1991, and a master’s degree and a doctorate in statistics from Yale University, in, respectively, 1994 and 1997.

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