Statistics Professor Follows Family Footsteps to Award-Winning Path
Sept. 8, 2014
Dr. Michael Baron
Dr. Michael Baron knew early in his life that he wanted to be a teacher.
“My parents were my first teaching coaches,” said Baron, a professor of mathematical sciences at UT Dallas whose parents were both high school math teachers, and whose grandfather was a mathematics lecturer and scholar of Hebrew studies.
“I saw how thoroughly they prepared for each class, how mindfully they wrote handouts, and how carefully they graded homework and exams. They showed me rather early what it takes to become a professional teacher,” he said.
Baron has taught 23 subjects to more than 3,500 students since joining the UT Dallas faculty in 1995. He recently earned a 2014 Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award from the University of Texas System Board of Regents.
Baron teaches a variety of graduate and undergraduate courses in applied and theoretical statistics, both for statistics and nonstatistics majors in the School of Natural Sciences and Mathematics. He has taught students in management, business, engineering, computer science and software engineering.
“I teach students to understand uncertainty, to quantify it, and to make decisions under uncertainty, a skill that they will continue using in their careers and everyday life,” he said.
To maintain his students’ interest in class, Baron said he keeps a balance between theoretical material and practical examples, sprinkling in interesting related facts, paradoxical but true statements, and short stories about scientists and jokes.
He said a good instructor encourages students to think and use logic and reasoning to analyze material. He also encourages interaction and discussion among his students.
Dr. Michael Baron
TITLE: Professor of statistics, Department of Mathematical Sciences
RESEARCH INTERESTS: Sequential analysis and optimal sequential design; change-point estimation; application of statistics to epidemiology, clinical trials, semiconductor manufacturing, actuarial science, energy finance and cybersecurity
OTHER ACCOLADES: Fellow of the American Statistical Association; Abraham Wald Prize for best paper in the Journal of Sequential Analysis
More About the Awards
Faculty Members Receive Regents' Outstanding Teaching Awards
“I always encourage the silent part of the class to join an ongoing discussion. It is very satisfying to see quiet and shy students making a timid attempt to express their ideas and then become more and more active as the semester progresses,” Baron said.
“I consider myself a link in transferring educational experience, skills and techniques from my mentors to the younger generations,” he said. “I am proud of my students, many of whom became talented teachers, researchers and professors. It is always rewarding when my former students come back to me for advice.”
Baron earned a university diploma in mathematics from St. Petersburg State University in Russia and a PhD in statistics from the University of Maryland. He is associate editor of the Journal of Sequential Analysis, and in 2013, he was elected as a fellow of the American Statistical Association.
Baron is author of a textbook for undergraduate students, and co-author of a book that uses statistics in social science and marketing to explore the lifestyles of upper-middle class Americans. His textbook covers standard topics such as statistics, introductory probability and random variables, but it also has material targeted toward computer-related majors, including software engineering, telecommunications and data science.
Baron said his students inspired him to write the textbook.
“I tried to write this book in a lively and attractive manner, instead of a dry explanation of all the facts and theorems,” he said. “I tried to make it interesting for the students and motivating. The book has many pictures and diagrams — I strongly believe that a good picture can often tell more to the student than a mathematically rigorous proof.”
Dr. Matthew Goeckner, professor and head of mathematical sciences at UT Dallas, said Baron is easily one of the best teachers in the department.
“The students love him, and it’s clear he loves teaching,” said Goeckner, who earned the Regents’ Outstanding Teaching Award in 2013. “It comes down to the fact that Michael cares a great deal about the students learning.”
Inspired by his students, mentors and family, Baron’s teaching philosophy is straightforward.
“A good scientist takes the simple and makes it complex. A good teacher takes the complex and makes it simple,” Baron said. “I am convinced that any subject, no matter how difficult and complex it is, can be taught in a lively and interesting way where each lecture makes a lot of sense to any adequately prepared students, ignites their interest and inspires them to learn more.”