Florence Nightingale Day at SFU inspires students with possibilities in statistics

February 09, 2024

Florence Nightingale is so well known for her work to revolutionize nursing that it’s easy to overlook the fact that she was also a pioneering statistician who invented new ways of visualizing data.

Approximately 120 high school students are visiting Simon Fraser University today to celebrate Florence Nightingale Day and explore careers in statistics. Hosted by the Canadian Statistical Sciences Institute (CANSSI), the event includes interactive activities, a career panel, and the chance to hear from current statistics and data science students about their experiences.

Florence Nightingale Day was founded in the U.S. in 2018 to encourage female K-12 students to consider studying statistics. It was hosted at SFU for the first time last year with a cohort of 30 students.

CANSSI director and SFU Statistics and Actuarial Science professor Don Estep explains that it made sense to bring the event to SFU and other Canadian universities. “Part of the mission of CANSSI is increasing diversity in the statistical sciences community," he says.

"CANSSI has become a major sponsor of Florence Nightingale Day in Canada but with the broader perspective of attracting K-12 students throughout Canada to consider statistics courses in their college studies, including students in disadvantaged circumstances."

Statistics and Actuarial Science lecturer Becky Lin is one of the organizers of this year's event.

While the statistics and data science community is more diverse than other engineering and quantitative science fields, there is still more work to be done to make the field a welcoming space for people from diverse backgrounds.

“Celebrating the achievements of individuals from underrepresented groups, like the pioneering Florence Nightingale, can serve as a powerful inspiration,” says SFU Statistics lecturer Becky Lin, one of the organizers of this year’s event.

“As a woman who pursued a first degree in computing science, a field that was dominated by men, I have first-hand experience of the challenges faced by those from underrepresented groups in STEM fields.”

Through their outreach the event’s organizing team hopes to inspire students to feel more confident about pursuing careers in statistics and data science, regardless of their gender, ethnicity, or socioeconomic status.

“Many K-12 students and their parents do not learn enough about statistics to realize it is interesting and that there are fantastic career opportunities for students who study statistics in university. This has a strongly negative impact on attracting students to consider statistics in university, especially those from disadvantaged backgrounds,” says Estep.

“It would be awesome if students could see a bit of themselves in the success stories we share, especially those from individuals who've faced hurdles because they come from groups that don't get enough spotlight in STEM,” Lin adds.