Evan Harris

Statistics: Elizabeth MacDonald

For all her award-winning work with numbers, statistics major Elizabeth MacDonald’s greatest mathematical feat may well be how much she can do with only 24 hours in a day. A member of Wake Forest’s DataFest team, a student adviser, a tour guide and a member of the Dean’s Student Advisory Panel, the Campus Life Advisory Committee and Wake Forest’s ballroom dance club, MacDonald still finds the time to be an important member of the mathematics and statistics community at Wake Forest.

“[At Wake Forest,] I’ve had enough safe spaces where I felt like I could try out different ways of being and try out a lot of different things, as well, to see what fits well with who I wanted to be,” MacDonald said.

In speaking with MacDonald, her passion for her extracurricular activities shines through. 

“I think probably the single most impactful experience outside of my academics at Wake Forest has probably come from student peer advising,” MacDonald said, “And helping students navigate what courses they should be looking at for their short and long term future, [as well as] working through interpersonal conversations with new peers.”

MacDonald, who is also a politics and international affairs minor, said her passion for statistics began in 10th grade when she took an AP course in the subject. She added that she saw many intersections between work in statistics and work in political science. In college, a large part of her coursework and her work in DataFest revolves around her attention to ethical data usage and ability to make broader connections.

“As I’ve gotten into more upper level and elective classes in the statistical sciences department, I’ve seen how these social issues can come about, like in a mathematical and statistical sense,” MacDonald said. 

Dr. Nicole Dalzell, one of the co-advisers of Wake Forest’s DataFest team, spoke to MacDonald’s curiosity in the classroom. 

“She asks a lot of questions about how what we’re learning can connect to real-world applications,” Dalzell said. “She tends to be one of those students that thinks really deeply about things and asks those questions in office hours that professors love, where we get to really dig into it and think about it for a while.”

That level of deep thinking has earned MacDonald awards — her team recently won her division at DataFest — and the respect of her professors. Dr. Cieran Evans, who also advises the DataFest team, also complimented MacDonald’s deep thinking.

“She’s one of the deepest thinkers…that I’ve seen, in terms of really thinking about how to be thoughtful and careful and use data to actually answer something interesting,” Evans said.

Multiple members of the statistics faculty told me that MacDonald’s service to the statistics department was invaluable. They say MacDonald was an active participant — and advocate for students — in meetings about the division of the department into mathematics and statistics and in meetings about the department’s anti-racism initiatives. 

MacDonald not only uses her statistics and politics background to understand issues beyond Wake Forest, but says that her work also helps her contextualize data about Wake Forest.

“It just generally informs my mindset…when the university releases different figures,” MacDonald said of her academic work. “I feel really confident exploring reports that the university puts out. So I think it’s just increased my confidence in being able to understand the world around me when things are put into numeric terms.”

This understanding is critical, as through her work as a member of DSAP and CLAC, MacDonald has had the ear of powerful campus leaders who she says were very receptive to the concerns she raised. However, there is always more upon which to improve. 

“I’d like to keep encouraging the administration and faculty to continue looking at the diversity and inclusion objectives that they had set forth in the past few years since I’ve been at Wake Forest, particularly around race and also ability status,” MacDonald said.

After graduation, MacDonald will once again be giving counsel, this time as an analyst at Deloitte’s Arlington, Va. office. 

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