skip to main content

Virginia Tech News / Articles / 2015 / 05 

Virginia Tech names statistics graduate program for alumna Jean Dickinson Gibbons

May 20, 2015

Photo of Jean Dickinson Gibbons
Jean Dickinson Gibbons

Virginia Tech’s graduate program in statistics has been named in recognition of a generous benefactor and alumna of the program.

Jean Dickinson Gibbons, from Vero Beach, Florida, an accomplished and renowned statistician, has enhanced the program’s reputation and given generously to the school. She earned a doctoral degree in statistics from Virginia Tech in 1962, at age of 24.

“I loved everything about the program as a student and have watched it grow over the years,” Gibbons said. “I’m very proud to have my name attached.”

Gibbons said she hopes Virginia Tech’s statistics program will continue to be held in high regard and attract top graduate students.

Part of Virginia Tech’s College of Science, the Department of Statistics is the third oldest in the country and has almost 100 full-time graduate students. The Jean Dickinson Gibbons Graduate Program in Statistics focuses on theory, but emphasizes practical applications as well.

After her time at Virginia Tech, Gibbons went on to teach at several universities, including the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Alabama. She retired from the University of Alabama in 1995.

During her career, Gibbons taught, completed research, testified before congressional committees, and authored 10 scholarly books. Her first, on nonparametric statistical inference, was published in 1970. It is now in its fifth edition.

Gibbons, a Fellow of the American Statistical Association, also served as a board member for that association for four terms and was the first chair of the Committee on Women in Statistics.

As a young woman in statistics in the 1960s, Gibbons was a minority in the field. She blazed a path for women and has been a role model for many.

Before studying at Virginia Tech, Gibbons earned a bachelor’s degree and a master’s degree in mathematics from Duke University. She later completed much of her doctorate course work at Columbia University, before she reached out to the chair of the statistics department at Virginia Tech, Boyd Harshbarger, to ask if she could finish her degree there.

“He said he would be delighted to have me,” Gibbons recalled, adding that officials at the university even waived the residency requirement for her. “I felt like I might not have even completed the Ph.D. degree had it not been for professors at Virginia Tech that were so welcoming to me. I will just always be grateful.”

Gibbons has been recognized in the President’s Circle of the Ut Prosim Society, the university’s most prestigious donor recognition society. She has also made a generous commitment of support from her estate. Her gifts support scholarships for statistics graduate students.

“Jean’s life and professional legacy set a standard for scholars everywhere,” said Professor Eric Smith, who heads the statistics department. “We are honored by her enduring allegiance to the Virginia Tech Department of Statistics, and grateful for her tangible support. Future generations of graduate students will benefit from both her generosity and her example.”

Referring to the naming of the Jean Dickinson Gibbons Graduate Program in Statistics, he said, “Nothing could be more fitting." 

Dedicated to its motto, Ut Prosim (That I May Serve), Virginia Tech takes a hands-on, engaging approach to education, preparing scholars to be leaders in their fields and communities. As the commonwealth’s most comprehensive university and its leading research institution, Virginia Tech offers 240 undergraduate and graduate degree programs to more than 31,000 students and manages a research portfolio of $513 million. The university fulfills its land-grant mission of transforming knowledge to practice through technological leadership and by fueling economic growth and job creation locally, regionally, and across Virginia.

Written by Annie McCallum