Kobi Abayomi Interviewed in The Whistle

Oct 27, 2010 | Atlanta, GA

When Kobi Abayomi [assistant professor in the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering] set foot on Georgia Tech’s campus as an under­graduate, he was thinking about how to land a job that involved cars — not about becoming a statistician.

Abayomi started off as a physics major but soon realized that the curriculum wasn’t for him. After visiting an optometrist who had a really nice car, Abayomi decided to try his hand at optometry. “Statistics was a prerequisite for the program, and I loved it,” he added.

Over the years, Abayomi’s inter­est in statistics continued to grow, and he now holds a master’s, master’s of philosophy, and a Ph.D. in Probability and Statistics from Columbia University.  Abayomi has also held positions as a visit­ing professor at Duke University and as a vis­iting fellow at Stanford University. These days, he is an assistant professor in the statistics group at the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

 Recently, The Whistle sat down with Abayomi for a conversation about research, teaching, and his favorite lunch spot. Here’s what he shared:

 Explain your research in statistics in one sentence.

I work with data that doesn’t match the bell curve and focus on a lot of sustainability-related issues.

 Tell me about your current research.

I’m analyzing data related to environmental hazards and what areas of the world are most vulnerable. I’m also collaborating with people at Georgia State University’s Law School and the Georgia Innocence Project to determine factors that can identify the wrongfully con­victed.

 What is your greatest challenge when it comes to teaching, and how have you dealt with it?

I feel like I want to teach to the student that I was. But, I’ve realized that everyone doesn’t learn the same way, and everyone doesn’t have the same goals as I did (i.e., they don’t want to go to graduate school).

A few things I’ve done to address this issue is I’ve tried to slow down how quickly I go through the course material. I also try to be very clear about what information will be covered on tests, so students know what they should be studying.

 Who are your teaching mentors?

Maria Montessori because she wrote about student self-determination, and Andrew Gelman because he taught me a few tricks for teaching statistics.

 What is your teaching philosophy?

I wouldn’t assign grades if I didn’t have to. The whole point of grading and testing is to get students to engage themselves in study. The best classes occur after tests when every­one has spent time learning the material.

 What is one thing all faculty and staff should do while working at Tech?

Swim in the Olympic Pool at the Campus Recreation Center and the pool at the Georgia Tech Hotel and Conference Center. They’re both impressive.

 Where’s the best place to grab lunch (on or off campus), and what do you order?

Spoon. I like to order tofu pad king.

 Tell us something unusual about yourself.

I have Siberian huskies named “Sasha” and “Trooper” that I rescued using the website www.petfinder.com.

 If you weren’t in your current line of work, what would you be doing?

I’d be living in Encinitas, California, and I’d have a performance shop where I would change automatic transmissions to manual

Amelia Pavlik, new editor for The Whistle, authored this article, which appeared in the October 25, 2010 issue.

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Barbara Christopher
Industrial and Systems Engineering