National competition brings together data science community
DUBUQUE, Iowa – Loras College, a Catholic liberal arts college, will be the first college in Iowa to host DataFest, a national undergraduate data analytics competition from 5 p.m. Friday, April 13 to 5 p.m. Sunday, April 15 on the Loras campus.
“DataFest can be a great recruiting opportunity,” Dale Lehman, Ph.D., director of the College’s Center of Business Analytics and professor of business administration, said. “They get to watch talented undergraduate students work under pressure in a team to extract meaningful insights from a complex data set.”
DataFest is an annual competition in which teams of up to five undergraduate students from engineering, math, computer science, statistics, social science and other fields of study participate in exploring real data, going well beyond what is typically studied in their coursework. The event is sponsored nationally by the American Statistical Association (ASA).
During the 48-hour event, each team competes head-to-head for prizes in categories ranging from Best in Show, Best Visualization and Best Use of External Data. Each team presents its findings to a panel of judges—comprised of analytics professionals from the regional community.
Just as important, the student-competitors will try to catch the attention of various company and organization representatives who are attending the event to offer advice to the competitors and identify students with the best quantitative and analytical skills for potential job opportunities.
Each year, the data and the challenge are different, but the common theme of making sense of Big Data—larger and more complex than the data sets undergraduate students usually encounter in a classroom—is carried over. The data set, which consists of real-world data of current interest to the providing organization or business, is not unveiled until the start of the competition so participating students cannot prepare in advance for the event.
In 2017, Expedia provided DataFesters with data from search results from millions of visitors around the world who were interested in traveling to destinations all over the world. DataFesters were tasked to determine how the searches related to the choices of hotels booked or not booked.
Undergraduate students do the work but are assisted by roving consultants who are graduate students, faculty, and industry professionals.
“Even long after ASA DataFest is completed, student-competitors who include the event on their resumes have found that potential employers are keenly interested in learning about their participation in the competition and how the ASA DataFest experience translates to the job opening for which they are interviewing,” Lehman said.
DataFest was founded at UCLA in 2011 when 30 students gathered for 48 hours to analyze five years of arrest records provided by Lt. Thomas Zak of the Los Angeles Police Department. ASA DataFest is now sponsored by the American Statistical Association and hosted by several of the most prestigious colleges and universities in the country.
More than 2,000 students take part from schools such as UCLA, Pomona College, Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, UC Riverside, University of Southern California, Purdue University, Duke, the University of North Carolina, North Carolina State, Emory, Princeton, Dartmouth, Smith, Hampshire, Amherst, Mt. Holyoke, and the University of Massachusetts.
Sponsors include Heartland Financial USA, INC., ASA, McGraw Hill Education and Rockwell Collins.
ABOUT LORAS COLLEGE
Loras leverages its historic roots as Iowa’s first college, the second oldest Catholic college west of the Mississippi River and one of the nation’s 10 diocesan institutions to deliver challenging, life-changing experiences as part of its residential, Catholic setting. Loras ranks among 450 NCAA Division III athletic programs in Learfield Sports Directors’ Cup standings, 11th out of the Top 100 baccalaureate colleges, according to the 2016 Washington Monthly College Rankings, 13th Best Regional College, according to Midwest U.S. News Best Colleges and is among the 200 Best-Loved Colleges in the nation, according to Forbes Magazine.