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Late-USask statistics professor Dennis O'Shaughnessy (BA'62, PhD'68), left, is pictured with his wife, Cynthia during one of their many worldly travels. (Submitted photo)

Scholarship established in memory of late-USask statistics professor

USask statistics professor Dennis O'Shaughnessy was responsible for changing the name of the Department of Mathematics to include the specialty

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By Kristen McEwen

If he ever won the lottery, professor Dennis O'Shaughnessy (BA’62, PhD’68) wanted to establish a new faculty chair position—specializing in statistics—in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics at the University of Saskatchewan (USask).

Instead, his wife, Cynthia Carr, decided to honour her late-husband's memory and passion for teaching and statistics by establishing a scholarship to support graduate students.

“We obviously didn’t win,” Carr said. “I thought this might be something that on a smaller scale that he’d be happy with.”

A professor of statistics for 46 years, O’Shaughnessy loved teaching mathematics and statistics inside and outside the walls of the USask College of Arts and Science. The scholarship called, C.D. O’Shaughnessy Graduate Scholarship in Statistics, was established this year in memory of O’Shaughnessy who died in 2019.

“It seemed that with any student who took an actual interest in probability or ratios, or statistics, he would go to them and try to foster that interest to go somewhere in statistics,” Carr said. “I felt that starting this kind of scholarship would increase the likelihood of a student going farther than a bachelor’s degree.”

Carr recognized that students today are facing higher tuition than ever before, especially if they decide to pursue graduate studies.

The scholarship is intended to recognize the academic achievements of a PhD student pursuing studies in statistics in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. The $2,500 scholarship will be awarded annually in March of every year, in perpetuity. The first scholarship is expected to be awarded in the 2024-25 academic year.

If there isn’t an eligible candidate, the award may be granted to continuing students in a Master of Science graduate degree program in statistics, or an undergraduate student pursuing statistics in the Bachelor of Science honours program or double honours program.

"I want you for math and stats"
Late-statistics professor Dennis O'Shaughnessy encouraged students to follow their interests, especially when it came to mathematics and statistics. (Submitted photo)

O’Shaughnessy was an instrumental part of the Department of Mathematics and Statistics. He was a major part of why the department changed its name to include “statistics.”

“He fought for it because he didn’t feel that (statistics) was an appendage of mathematics,” Carr said. “He felt it was a separate part of the study of mathematics.”

With a booming voice, O’Shaughnessy could easily talk to a class of 300 students without using a microphone. In class evaluations, students’ feedback would note that he was a snappy dresser, addressing his collection of plaid shirts.

He enjoyed advising students, fostering fledgling interests in statistics, and noting when math and stats were not someone’s forte.

“If he could get students excited about numbers, he was thinking there’s a chance that one of them will succeed in statistics, or some branch of statistics,” she said.

He was also an active member of the Statistical Society of Canada, a national organization which brings together statisticians from across the country to advance knowledge and education of Canadians about statistical sciences. Having a society with shared interests helped colleagues in statistics feel less isolated, Carr said.

O'Shaughnessy was an undergraduate student advisor in the Department of Mathematics and Statistics, and later appointed for a three-year term as Assistant Dean in the College of Arts and Science.

It was there that he met Carr, who was working as an administrative assistant in the Dean’s office in 1985. She later worked as a student advisor in the college for 15 years. Together, they would work to help students decide on their career paths.

Dennis O'Shaughnessy
Late-USask statistics professor Dennis O'Shaughnessy is pictured on his farm, nicknamed "DenCyn Farm," with his dogs. (Submitted photo)

“We had a very good working relationship,” Carr said. “Well, we were married for 32 years so I guess it was good.”

While math and statistics were an important part of his life, it was not all encompassing, Carr said.

O’Shaughnessy enjoyed hockey. Having played hockey since the age of three, he continued to play up until the spring before he passed away at the age of 78.

“He was also a master cribbage player. He’d have your cards counted before you got them on the table,” Carr laughed.

The pair lived on the "DenCyn” farm–based on their nicknames. After retirement, they split their time at home or travelling around the world.

“I dragged him all over the world on cruises,” she said. “He’d say, ‘You plan something, I’ll go.’ He didn’t care where we went.”

Carr reflected on her husband’s legacy, and how she and his family decided to honour his passions.

“I think (Dennis) would tell me, it’s about time—get this on the road,” Carr said. “He would be happy to know that (the scholarship) will always be around. I think he’d be really, really pleased.”   

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