On December 17, 2007, Professor David Blackwell, a renowned statistician and mathematician, received an honorary doctorate degree from North Carolina State University. The first African American to be inducted into the National Academy of Sciences in 1965, Dr. Blackwell’s most well-known contribution to the world of statistics is the Rao-Blackwell Theorem, which establishes an approach for finding the best unbiased estimator. He is a co-author of the book, Theory of Games and Statistical Decisions and has published over 80 publications and received a dozen honorary doctoral degrees. In 1954, he joined the statistics faculty at the University of California-Berkeley, chairing the statistics department for four years and advising over 50 doctoral students before retiring in 1989. Professor Blackwell has served as president of the Institute of Mathematical Statistics, the International Association for Statistics in Physical Sciences and the Bernoulli Society. He also has served as the Vice President of the American Statistical Association and the American Mathematical Society. He received the John von Neumann Theory Prize from the Operations Research Society of America in 1979 for his work in dynamic programming and the Fisher Award from the Committee of Presidents of Statistical Societies in 1986.
The diploma was presented to Professor Blackwell in person on January 6, 2008 at a Sunday brunch ceremony in Berkeley. Professor Blackwell, one of his sons, Hugo Blackwell, some of his colleagues (David Brillinger, Dave Freedman, John Rice, Terry Speed), one of his former students at Berkeley (Terrance Odean), a couple of NC State alumni (Partiosh Dixit, Palanikumar Ravindran), a couple of NC State faculty (Sastry Pantula, Kim Weems) and guests attended the brunch. Sastry conveyed the congratulations to Professor Blackwell from Chancellor Oblinger, Dean Solomon and statistics faculty from NC State University. Professor Blackwell recalled how he got into the field of statistics- “I thought I had an excellent counter example to a theorem presented by Abe Girshick. My discussions with him lead to a long term collaboration and an interest in statistics.” He encouraged everyone to take chances- some errors and accidents may lead to great things.