Capstone research experiences are ubiquitous in statistics curricula. However, they are often the only opportunity for students to practice analyzing real-world data. This is not optimal: as stated in the 2014 ASA Statistical Science Curriculum Guidelines, skills, such as the ability to effectively analyze data, "need to be introduced, supported, and reinforced throughout a student's academic program." Clearly, early undergraduates should be provided opportunities to practice statistics. But how? And what are the benefits?
In this talk, we describe our approach to early statistical practice at CMU. Its key features include a focus on qualitative, and not mathematical, details of statistical learning, and the use of curated data to minimize distraction. We find that early practice exposes students to sound statistical thinking, which helps them more easily navigate later classes; builds the confidence necessary to work with clients and real-world data; and more easily opens doors (e.g., internships) that otherwise might remain closed. We conclude by describing resources that others may freely use to provide early statistical practice opportunities at their own institutions.