A brief history of the department

The University of Waterloo was founded in 1957 and in its first decade, statistics and actuarial science courses were offered in the Department of Mathematics within the Faculty of Arts. They included full second-year courses in actuarial mathematics and introductory probability and statistics plus a number of third and fourth year courses. The co-op option in Mathematics was initiated in 1964 at the behest of local insurance industry leaders and many students in actuarial science and statistics took advantage of this option.

In 1967 the Faculty of Mathematics was created and the Department of Statistics came into existence. David Sprott was the first chair of the department, and also served simultaneously as the first dean of the Faculty of Mathematics. The other founding professorial faculty were Greg Bennett and Jim Kalbfleisch; Chris Springer was a lecturer and taught in the department for another 43 years. In 1968, Mike Bennett joined the department as the first professor of actuarial science. Curriculum development and faculty recruitment proceeded rapidly over the next 10 years and by 1977-78 the department consisted of 26 full-time and two part-time faculty, and a wide range of undergraduate and graduate courses were offered. In 1982 the department’s name was changed to Statistics and Actuarial Science.

The department forged a strong research presence in theory, methods and applications of statistics from its earliest days. The foundations of inference and survey sampling were major areas of concentration from the beginning. Emphases on applied probability, survival analysis and time series developed soon after, along with applied work in biometry, biostatistics, epidemiology, industrial statistics and survey methodology. In actuarial science, risk theory and pensions became important research areas. A statistical consulting service was established in 1977 and over the years numerous centres and institutes were established in areas of major activity. The department has hosted many conferences, symposia and workshops; a highlight was the 2007 conference commemorating the 40th anniversary of the founding of the department.

Faculty members and alumni of the department have held numerous leadership positions in statistics and actuarial science, and received many honours. The university has also bestowed honorary degrees on many eminent statisticians and actuarial scientists from other institutions. Our current faculty conduct research in a wide range of areas and continue the tradition of leadership.

David A. Sprott

David A. Sprott, first chair of the Department of Statistics (1967) and former dean of the Faculty of Mathematics.