Wheaton College Math Majors Participate in Research Pilot Project with University of Iowa

February 18, 2019

Wheaton’s Dr. Darcie Delzell and three students collaborated with the University of Iowa on a Summer Institute in Biostatistics pilot project, which is culminating with a submission to a scientific journal.

380x253Wheaton College Associate Professor of Mathematics Dr. Darcie Delzell and three students, Sara Magnuson, Tabitha Peter and Michelle Smith partnered with the University of Iowa’s Dr. Brian Smith on a research project which aims to predict lung tumor malignancy status using radiomics, a field of study that seeks to use a large array of quantitative features from medical images in data-characterization  and machine learning algorithms. The research, which is in the process of being submitted to a peer-reviewed scientific journal, is an outgrowth of the work started at the Iowa Summer Institute in Biostatistics (ISIB).

The Summer Institute in Biostatistics (SIBS) is a National Institutes of Health-funded program that was launched in 2004 to address the increasing disparity between the low supply and high demand for biostatisticians in the marketplace.

“I’ve sent many students through SIBS—the vast majority of them have gone on to graduate school in statistics and data science,” Delzell said. “It’s incredibly effective at getting students into the field.”

During the six- to seven-week program, undergraduate students from all over the country meet at various universities, including Boston University, Emory University, and the University of Iowa, to learn how to take a biostatistical approach to research. In addition, they’re paired with a professional biostatistician to complete the research.   

But while the program gave students a deep dive into the field and research, it wasn’t long enough for students to see their research through to publication in a peer-reviewed journal. That’s why this past year, the University of Iowa partnered with Wheaton College on a pilot project, which enabled a group of Wheaton students to continue their research into the fall semester in a mentored research seminar.

The Wheaton students were grouped with Dr. Brian Smith, a faculty member in the Biostatistics Department at the University of Iowa, to complete research on a project that seeks to predict lung tumor malignancy status using radiomics. Delzell collaborated with Smith and the students to continue the research back at Wheaton College—and to get it ready for publication.

“The students got a full research experience from beginning to publication, and they got to do something that has a real potential impact for patients,” Delzell said about Wheaton’s participation on the pilot project.

For Tabitha Peter, the experience of working on this project was invaluable on several fronts: Not only did it refine her thinking on what she’d do with her math major; it also gifted her with the ability to share her faith and build new relationships.  

“I came to Wheaton thinking I would do math and secondary education, and I realized early on that education wasn’t my calling,” Peter said, adding that after going through the ISIB, she found a new path. “At Iowa, I learned about biostatistics is math and problem-solving but with this public-health end. I loved having that really human end goal to my math.”

A senior now, Peter has applied to several graduate programs in biostatistics, including one at the University of Iowa, where she’s already been accepted with a generous package.--Emily Bratcher