How Well Do Students Know Their Professors?

By Hannah Davidson

In the statistics world, Dr. Gregory Hancock is a celebrity. For students at the University of Maryland, he is simply their professor. 

Hancock has received many awards for his statistical work; however, it is his teaching awards that he is most proud of. 

The director of the Measurement, Statistics and Evaluation program, Hancock has taught statistics at the University of Maryland for over 25 years. 

Growing up in Seattle, Washington, he was always a “hyper-achieving” kid, he said. By his senior year of high school, Hancock was French club president, student body president, captain of the wrestling team and a frequent piano player, all while maintaining a strong G.P.A. 

“I was all in and all things school and loved it,” he said. 

Outside of teaching, however, Hancock plans and designs statistical studies. Statisticians from around the world will pitch him their study proposals, and Hancock will then assist in designing studies adequate for the research being done.

Hancock may help researchers design studies on anything from education and how kids learn, to a study for a clinical drug trial. This includes figuring out how many participants the study requires, creating methods to reduce measurement error and collecting accurate numbers. 

“I specialize in trying to deal with studies that have a lot of error and noise in them, and I help people design studies so that they can reach clearer answers when their variables are terrible,” he said. 

He focuses on statistical measures that are more difficult to be evaluated, such as students’ motivation in schools or stress in workplaces, as opposed to more easily quantifiable measures, such as heart rate or the number of attendees at a concert, he explained. 

He not only helps in assisting other researchers and statisticians, but he will also create new designs and methods for them to follow as well. 

“The Reviewer’s Guide to Quantitative Methods in the Social Sciences” is a book Hancock wrote with two other statisticians that was published in 2010.

Since then, Hancock has received weekly letters from people all over the world. Filled with excitement and gratitude, the messages most often say his book not only enabled them to design their study, but complete it successfully as well. 

The book is made for people who want to use different statistical techniques. It takes roughly 35 different key methods that people use in the social sciences, and spells out exactly what researchers should and shouldn’t do, Hancock explained. 

He designed this book to be accessible to everyone, hoping to have it reach both students and professionals.

“The cool part is when it actually gets into people’s hands and someone says, ‘Oh, we use your book’ or ‘Oh, we use this method that you developed,’” Hancock said. “That’s the best part.” 

Long before publishing his book, however, Hancock developed a statistical method that was put into a software package. Over 10 years later, he continues to receive letters praising him on his work and thanking him for the success brought to them by “Hancock’s Test.”

It was one of Hancock’s first major successes, so much so that his grandmother hung the results of the formula on her refrigerator door, as she would his report card in elementary school.

“She had it on her refrigerator with a magnet for years,” Hancock said. “She put it in the same place she would have put a giraffe I’d colored in crayon.” 

After his parents divorced when he was 10 years old, Hancock became very close with his grandmother, and frequently stayed there. 

Hancock chose to live primarily with his dad after the divorce and his younger brother, Chris, followed suit. His father was the lead cockpit designer for Boeing, meaning life was often chaotic. Being a single dad with a full time job, he was often very busy, Hancock explained. However, it was at his grandmother’s house that he found peace and stability. 

“It was this place that was just always home,” Hancock said. 

His grandmother greatly influenced and inspired him, beginning when he was a child. She never failed to set the bar high, and always pushed him to go further, he said. 

“She was the toughest person you would ever meet,” Hancock said. 

As Hancock describes it, teaching is the “best job in the world.” 

Hancock attended the University of Washington for 10 years, where he completed both his undergraduate and graduate work. Originally on the pre-med track, it was not until his junior year that he chose to switch his major to education. 

Since then, Hancock eats, sleeps, and breathes teaching and education. Starting as a high school chemistry teacher in Washington, he soon decided he would rather be a professor. 

He didn’t like the logistics, such as planning and management, required to teach at the high school level. College students are often more motivated to learn, he said.  

Hancock’s teaching career, however, is not limited to just his university students. His expertise also expands to Howard County, where he lives. 

Establishing what he calls “Hancock Academy,” he tutors his two sons and their neighborhood friends on any and all things math. Gathered in his basement, Hancock and his students gather weekly around a white board to work through problems. 

More than anything else, he wishes all of his students knew how much he genuinely cares about their success and education. 

“Even when they don’t like my class, which is okay,” Hancock says, “I would want them to know that it matters to me what I do.” 

Every semester, Hancock reshapes and polishes the curriculum in hopes of making it more accessible for the students. Because of this, the worst part about being a professor falls when students lie, cheat or drop the class, he said.

There are ways to avoid all of these things, Hancock explained, if only the students would communicate with him. He has seen fake injuries, doctor’s notes and even deaths as excuses students will use to avoid or justify a poor grade. 

“It hurts my heart on so many levels for each person” Hancock said, referring to the students that he is forced to suspend or expel due to a cheating or Honor Code violation. 

Hancock has won many awards over his lifetime;  however, two in particular have stood out to him most: the Jacob Cohen Award for Distinguished Contributions to Teaching and Mentoring from the American Psychological Association, and the Distinguished Scholar-Teacher award from the University of Maryland.

Student Alicia Salcedo, however, had no idea about the length of Hancock’s accomplishments and qualifications. 

Currently enrolled in his Introduction to Educational Statistics class, the sophomore communication major is very fond of Hancock and his teaching styles, and said she can tell how passionate he is when he lectures. 

If anything were to change, Salcedo wishes the class was smaller, so Hancock could work more one-on-one with students, she said. She believes this would create a more personal atmosphere opposed to the large lecture hall in which it is currently taught. 

Senior Daniel Long, also currently enrolled in the course, said that although he knew a little bit of Hancock’s awards and accomplishments from reading his online profile through UMD’s website, he was unaware of the extent of what he has done. 

Despite knowing that his students may not know, and therefore appreciate, all of his past research and accomplishments, Hancock said that it’s not his accomplishments that matter, especially when teaching. 

What matters is education and that students are learning, as opposed to students learning about the professor’s awards, Hancock explained. 

“I’d rather people know that I genuinely care that they learn.”

Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Gregory Hancock’s Facebook page.

Hannah Davidson is a sophomore journalism and sociology double major and can be reached at hannahdavidson99@gmail.com.

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