Summer Associate Alumni Spotlight: Bernard Dillard

The Eclectic

Bernard Dillard’s background is a tapestry woven from eclectic experiences. “I don’t want to sing one note,” says Dillard, a professor at the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT); cast member of HBO’s groundbreaking series, The Wire; and former summer associate at RAND.

While Bernard started college as an English major, he took enough math classes to graduate with a double major. He went on to earn his graduate degree in math with a concentration in statistics. Near the end of his studies, Bernard researched summer programs, and while he knew RAND’s Graduate Student Summer Associate Program is competitive, Bernard applied because his research into the biostatistics of terrorism was relevant.

Bernard Dillard

Bernard Dillard

“I was using wavelet-based analysis to look at data in real-time through nontraditional data strings,” Bernard explains. “For instance, I looked at spikes in sales of cold medicines, since anthrax mimics cold symptoms.” While Bernard thought his research was a good fit for RAND, he also thought RAND was a good fit him. “While RAND is policy-based, it’s oriented toward helping people.”

After being accepted to RAND’s program, Bernard began commuting from Maryland to Arlington, and he spent the summer working with researchers who analyzed where terrorists would most likely place IEDs in Iraq. Much of this work was classified, and Bernard was not privy to it, but he was able to perform cluster analysis to identify past placement of IEDs in order to determine potential future placement.

Though he was looking forward to learning about this new area of research from his mentor, TJ Sullivan, Bernard had to develop new skills when TJ was called away to Iraq. “I had to move forward on my own,” Bernard remembers. “I learned very important lessons, and I’m not just talking about teaching myself R-programming language. I learned that to succeed as a researcher you have to be self-driven. You cannot sit and wait for someone to tell you to take action. You have to help yourself. I loved having to find my way out of the trenches and just get it done.”

Bernard still uses those lessons today, and he passes them on to his students at FIT, where he teaches applied math that is used in the business end of fashion. He explains, “I expose my statistics students to the R-programming language that I learned at RAND. More importantly, though, I teach them to keep moving forward and succeeding no matter what obstacles they’re presented with. I tell my students that they can’t just give up and throw in the towel.”

When Bernard was interviewed by the entire department for his position at FIT, he was asked about his time at RAND. The group was surprised and shocked to learn what Bernard worked on. He not only educated them about how math helps to solve real-world problems, he also educated them about RAND’s work. “It’s a place where I could use my math skills to help solve real-world problems. It’s a place where you can apply math in a way that helps real people.”

To learn more about Bernard, read his memoir, Lemonade, which was a winner of the 2013 Global eBook Award.

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