Influential statistician, professor Ingram Olkin dies at 91

May 5, 2016, 12:51 a.m.

Professor Emeritus of Statistics and Education Ingram Olkin, an influential statistician and early champion of women in academia, passed away on April 28 at the age of 91. He is best known for developing methods for statistical analyses of education.

According to the Stanford News Service, the death was caused by complications following Olkin’s lengthy battle with colon cancer. Nevertheless, Olkin was described as mentally alert and energetic.

Olkin was born in Connecticut on July 23, 1924, and was raised by his parents, both immigrants from Eastern Europe, in New York City. Following his service as a meteorologist in the U.S. Army Air Force from 1943 to 1946, Olkin completed his undergraduate degree in mathematics at the City College of New York. He earned his master’s degree in mathematical statistics at Columbia University and his Ph.D. in the same subject at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1951.

Prior to working at Stanford, Olkin served as an assistant professor at Michigan State University and rose to full professor during his nine years there. During this time, one of his two sabbatical leaves was at Stanford. After working at the University of Minnesota for one year, he made the permanent move to Stanford in 1961.

Olkin was dedicated to both teaching and research in this field and held a dual appointment with the Graduate School of Education as well as the Department of Statistics.

Scientifically, Olkin’s notable contributions lie in multivariate statistical analysis, majorization and inequalities, linear algebra and meta-analysis. He co-authored and co-edited many books in these areas, including “Inequalities: Theory of Majorization and its Applications” (with Albert Marshall) and “Statistical Methods for Meta-Analysis” (with Larry V. Hedges).

He also served as the editor of the prestigious journal “Annals of Mathematical Statistics” and helped to form the “Journal of Educational Statistics” (now known as the “Journal of Educational and Behavioral Statistics”).

Among other awards, Olkin earned a Wilks Medal and Founders Award from the American Statistical Association, a Guggenheim Fellowship and the Melvin Zelen Leadership Award from Harvard University’s School of Public Health. Olkin was also elected to the National Academy of Education and served as president of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics.

As an advocate for women, Olkin also worked with the National Science Foundation and other groups to increase the number of and respect for women in academia. In one such effort, Olkin helped create a program that brought untenured female statistics professors to Stanford for a summer to interact with leaders in their field. In recognition of this vocal advocacy, Olkin is the the first and only male recipient of the Elizabeth L. Scott Award for the Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies.

In his later years, Olkin maintained membership in the Stanford Emeriti Council, which plans talks for University retirees and their spouses. He also was an active community participant at Hillel’s monthly faculty lunches.

As Olkin was also an art lover — with a particular appreciation for opera — donations in his memory are being taken at Stanford Hillel and West Bay Opera.

No memorial service has yet been announced, but Olkin arranged for his body to be donated to Stanford Hospital for research purposes. The professor emeritus is survived by his wife Anita, his daughters Vivian, Rhoda and Julia, and his grandchildren.


Contact Ada Statler-Throckmorton at adastat ‘at’

Ada Statler '18 is an earth systems major hailing from Kansas City (on the Kansas side, not Missouri). She's most passionate about environmental journalism, but cares about all things campus-related.

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