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Dan Harris: Leveraging the Online Statistics Program to Bring Industry Experience to the Classroom

Dan Harris headshot in front of brick wall.

Dan Harris recently started his second career as a lecturer in the Department of Statistics at NC State. He mainly teaches graduate courses in both online and in-person formats. Harris took a different path from most faculty members by first being a student in the Master of Statistics online program before becoming an instructor. Harris brings a unique perspective to his courses by using his experience as an online student and his years of industry expertise to bring a truly exciting and relevant experience to his students.

Harris earned his Ph. D. in Electrical Engineering from NC State and began working at Corning, a technology company that specializes in specialty glass, ceramics, and related materials and technologies including advanced optics, primarily for industrial and scientific applications.

“I started out at Corning as a researcher working on optical fiber transmission and characterization problems, as well as new product development,” says Harris. He began to have a real interest in statistics while working on a project to make fiber-optic connection devices out of molded plastic. These connectors needed accurate and precise geometrical properties, which were hard to achieve with a plastic molding process. Harris says, “We eventually were able to fine tune our process using a series of designed experiments, and ever since I have been sold on the power of statistical methods. As I progressed in my career, I moved into strategy development roles where we applied many types of statistical tools to try to forecast demand, understand risk profiles, predict market behavior, and optimize investment decisions.”

Harris was able to teach himself many of the statistical techniques but says, “I knew in order to really understand how to use these statistical tools, I needed to revisit the fundamentals. The online program at NC State provided a very nice foundation as well as some more specialized electives that applied directly to the work I was doing.”

He chose NC State’s online Master of Statistics program because of its reputation as one of the best programs in the country, the flexibility to continue working fulltime, and the array of directly applicable electives that included material on machine learning (ST 558, ST 563), times series analysis (ST 534), and Bayesian statistics (ST 540).

“This was my first experience with online learning. I really liked the approach NC State took having many of their online courses running concurrently with on-campus sections. The accessibility of my professors was awesome – much better than I expected. I felt I was able to establish relationships with them, and they were always willing to answer any questions I had. I even made a few on-campus visits, and faculty were always willing to share a little of their time. I also got to know several of my fellow students since we worked on group projects together. I think now with increased availability of video conferencing tools (such as Zoom), that experience is even better.”

As a faculty member that now teaches online courses, such as ST 542 – Statistical Practice, he creates a wonderful and relevant experience for his students.

One of the things I hope I bring to the program is the ability to help students effectively apply statistical methods in a business environment. One must have a solid understanding of statistical tools and know how and when to apply them. Additionally, they must also be able to clearly communicate to less knowledgeable members of the organization how these tools can help improve business results in ways other approaches cannot; this group includes senior management as well as front-line workers that may be impacted by decisions related to the analysis.”

“Effective teamwork is also important in today’s environment, and oftentimes issues arise among team members or between a team and its stakeholders. Since an important part of our curriculum includes group project work, I try to leverage my experience working with effective teams to help students when they encounter these types of issues that will inevitably occur when working as part of a team. Finally, having been through the online program, I understand the challenges in replicating the sense of community that we have on campus. Fortunately, with the advent of better online collaboration tools we can get much closer to that in-person experience than ever before. Having taught several online courses and also having worked in many business environments that have geographically diverse workgroups, I leverage those experiences to facilitate a high level of interaction between myself and students as well as among the students themselves.”

We are proud to have Dan Harris as one of our online program alums! We are lucky to have him on our faculty and thankful for all he does for his students!

Are you interested in our Online Master of Statistics or Online Graduate Certificate in Applied Statistics and Data Management? Find out more information at our website.

This post was originally published in Department of Statistics.