Statistics Department proposes renovations, collaborative learning spaces
By Adam Kaz
December 7, 2015
On Nov. 23, Statistics Professor Karle Laska saw squirrel paws scrambling underneath the door of professor Ellen Fireman’s office in Illini Hall.
She had seen the squirrel scramble into Fireman’s office the previous Friday, but didn’t expect the squirrel to be trapped in her colleague’s office for the whole weekend. Facilities and Services were called and two hours later the squirrel was captured.
“It looked like World War III in there. It was just unbelievable,” Fireman said. “I have a bed in my office because I had a bad back. When I came back, it was all thrown out, all over the place. It wasn’t the squirrel, it was the fight with the squirrel because they had to fight with it.”
This recent squirrel incident is another event in a history of Illini Hall’s difficulties with infrastructure. Illini Hall is one of the oldest buildings on the University campus. The Department of Mathematics and Statistics recently made a proposal requesting new renovations for Altgeld and Illini Hall. According to the proposal, “Neither building has seen significant renovation since 1965, while the face of public higher education has changed dramatically since then.”
The proposal was announced to the entire department during the Statistics 30-year anniversary event on campus last November, Laska said.
Laska said they plan to break ground for renovations on the two buildings in 2017. The renovations will likely take five years to complete. The new renovations plan for Illini Hall to be “an entirely new space for collaborative discovery and learning.” The plan details aren’t fully developed yet, but the proposal says they hope to create new common areas and interactive learning spaces that allow students to take an interdisciplinary approach to mathematics and statistics.
The recent growth in the number of statistics students helped prompt the initiative. According to the proposal, enrollment in mathematics and statistics classes has increased 40 percent in the last 10 years. Currently, eighty percent of students enrolled in statistics courses are studying majors other than statistics.
Laska said she believes the current space for holding statistics classes and group reviews is too small to keep up with this growth.
“We don’t have priority. Not for teaching hours, not for Lincoln Hall, not for reviews. I have to give two separate reviews. It isn’t the end of the world, but I have to give two separate reviews because there isn’t enough space,” Laska said. “Even then, I’m giving two reviews in 314 Altgeld, there’s 300 seats, so that’s 600 seats and I have 1,100 students. If everyone comes to the review, I don’t know what I’m going to do.”
Even before her office was damaged, Fireman didn’t think her office was accommodating for students interested in office hours due to a lack of space. Currently, the Statistics Department makes up for their large class sizes and limited space by putting lectures and homework on Lon-Capa, an online lecture network that tests student understanding of statistics concepts.
Although the new renovations are still in a very early stage of development, Fireman already knows what she would like from new additions to her workspace.
“What we’d really love is a Stats Center. We want person-to-person interaction,” she said. “There’s always those students who can’t learn online. What we would love is to have this space here.”
Fireman’s hope for a Statistics Center is not outlined in the proposal. However, Laska is skeptic about the proposal itself. She believes the current uncertainty with the state’s budget could stall or eliminate the entire project.
“We don’t even know if they’re going to happen with all the budget cuts from the University,” Laska said. “That’s one of the problems with the budget cuts is they have all these plans to renovate buildings, but then they have to be put on hold because, how are they going to fund them?”