Lawrence Ries is known for his entertaining lectures and his ability to cure students of their aversion toward numerical data.
“I try to keep in mind who my audience is and to design my lectures so that they will be accessible to that audience,” Ries said. “Most of the time that I’m lecturing I’m having fun, and I just think that comes across to the students.”
Ries has taught statistics at MU since June 1996. He now serves as a resident instruction associate professor, lower division coordinator and associate chairman of statistics. He won several awards, including the prestigious $10,000 William T. Kemper Fellowship, an award for teaching excellence that he received in April.
Ries’ lectures are known to be interesting. The one he is best known for might be his M&Ms experiment, in which he distributes small bags of candy to the class and asks students to use the candy to solve problems and answer questions. He also polls classes frequently, looking for ways to keep students involved.
Ries said that although math is only a part of statistics, students who enjoy statistics must still keep math in mind.
“Students need a certain aptitude for mathematics in order to go very far in statistics,” he said. “Certainly, if someone wanted to earn a graduate degree in statistics, he or she would need a very strong background in mathematics.”
Ries grew up on a farm near Boonville, where he lived until he came to MU in the late 1980s. He came upon his profession unexpectedly – switching from psychology to statistics after a couple of courses in the field.
Outside of class he enjoys movies, music and politics. His main hobby is running.
“One of my colleagues and I have a regular running time every day,” he said. “That doesn’t mean we actually go running every day, but we try to.”