The Gustavian Weekly

Sports to stats: Dennis Lock lectures on campus: NFL statistician brings Gustavus insight into the world of football | The Gustavian Weekly

By Jack Wiessenberger - Staff Writer | February 28, 2020 | News

Last week, Gustavus students had the opportunity to hear a statistician talk about their work. However, Dennis Lock is no ordinary statistician. Lock works for the NFL as the Director of Football Research and Strategy for the Buffalo Bills. His talk gave students the opportunity to learn more about a real life application of their studies. Seminars such as this one are offered regularly by the Mathematics, Statistics and Computer Science (MCS) department.
“The MCS department is committed to bringing in speakers on a regular basis. We believe this is a valuable opportunity for students to see how to use what they learn in the classroom in their future careers. Last semester we had a mathematician that works on climate change and a data analyst that works for Securian Financial,” Assistant Professor Jillian Downey said.
Downey and Lock attended graduate school at Iowa State University together where they both finished with degrees in statistics.
“My only connection to Gustavus prior to the seminar was Dr. Jillian Downey. We attended grad school together and became close friends, but now I have several connections at Gustavus,” Lock said.
Lock had the opportunity to connect with students personally both after his talk as well as during his day-long visit on campus. A few students were able to sit down and chat with Lock during lunch.
“It was cool to talk about sports analytics and the NFL with a professional NFL analyst. Dennis is not just intelligent in the sports analytics world, he is also very insightful on everything statistics,” Junior Nicolas Kerbeshian said.
Lock made time to connect with students and share his experiences in statistics with them.
“My interactions with students were great. They were eager and enthusiastic and the turnout for the seminar was impressive. I shared information with several individuals and will enjoy being in contact with them as they discover their path,” Lock said.
The seminar was held in a lecture room in Olin Hall. Nearly every seat was filled with Gustavus students and faculty members.
“I was very interested to hear an insider’s perspective from someone who worked so closely with many parts of an NFL team. I was surprised to hear about all of the extra data that he works with, such as the equipment used to check how much exertion a player is dealing with during a practice. The League is a huge business and people such as Dennis are hired to provide the teams any possible advantage that they can,” Sophomore Filip Belik said.
There were many aspects of Lock’s talk that drew the large crowd. The idea of a front office NFL director brought in those interested in the sports aspect of Lock’s job. The other side of Lock’s job, the statistical analysis side, attracted a lot of those from the MCS department.
“I thought Dennis’ talk was at a level that was understandable to students from all backgrounds and majors. During the talk students seemed very engaged, especially during the question and answer portion. I had a number of students indicate that they are interested in a sports analytics type of career and hearing Dennis talk cemented their desire to pursue a graduate program in statistics,” Downey said.
Much of what Dennis had to say was aimed at providing students with guidance for their next steps in the world of statistics.
“The main purpose of my talk was to show a cool way statistical analyses are utilized outside of academia as well as to develop an understanding of sports analytics and analytics in general,” Lock said.
Lock wanted to make his seminar as informative for MCS students as possible while also keeping it interesting for those who may not have as much background in statistics as others. He left those on the MCS path with a few pieces of advice.
“Take computer science and statistics – the more computational experience you have the better. Take advantage of your opportunities at Gustavus. Work on data you are passionate about and get your work out there,” Lock said.
Stats students were able to gain a lot of important insight into their possible futures as professional analysts. The MCS department offers these talks regularly to do just that.
“Ever since I became a statistics major at Gustavus, I always thought that being a sports data analyst would be the perfect role for a guy like me who loves both sports and statistics. Lock’s talk was great. I love to hear from people who have credentials like Lock has. I would certainly go to another talk like this on campus,” Kerbeshian said.
The MCS department received very positive feedback regarding Lock’s seminar and visit to campus. Downey and the rest of the department will continue to work on finding the best possible speakers for their students to come learn from.

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