For 48 hours one weekend in early April, four mathematics majors interested in statistics and data science from Franklin & Marshall College worked round-the-clock, mining data in a competition with teams from other colleges.
DataFest is the American Statistical Association’s annual celebration of data. Undergraduate teams analyze a selected data set that is large, rich and complex. They share insights about what they discovered. The event was founded at UCLA in 2011. This was the first time F&M competed.
“Our team represented F&M really well for being rookies,” said Associate Professor of Mathematics Danel Draguljić, who is F&M’s only statistician. “They got a second place for Best Insight, which is the highest of the four awards that are given.”
The courseload at F&M may have given senior Grace Cochrane and juniors Xinyang Chen, Aiden Kenny and Billy Doyle an edge. “These four students took all statistics and probability courses we have here, which tremendously prepared them for this competition as well as for their future careers or graduate studies,” Draguljić said.
The students seemed to think so, too.
“It was so rewarding to see firsthand how the topics we were learning in class are used every day in real life,” Kenny said. “We worked very well together as a team; everyone pulled their weight, and at some point, each one of us had a key insight that made our final analysis better.”
The event is hosted by colleges around the country, and F&M’s students competed at Villanova University in Philadelphia. The undergraduates are assisted by roving consultants—graduate students, faculty and industry professionals.
“As someone who wants to pursue a career in data science, the competition gave me an opportunity to practice skills I have learned both inside and outside the classroom to try and solve real-world problems,” Doyle said.
Beth Throne, F&M’s associate vice president of student and post-graduate development, provided funding for the students. She said nationally organized events like DataFest allow students to “showcase their technical competencies and social intelligence while connecting them to industry leaders and potential employers.”
Data sets used in competition are provided by companies or organizations such as Indeed.com, the Los Angeles Police Department and Match.com. This year’s data set came from the Canadian Women’s Rugby Association. Students get no specific questions; they just analyze.
“There were not a lot of guidelines, so it was up to us to decide out how we wanted to approach the data and our analysis,” Cochrane said. “It was a fun challenge to figure out how to apply the things we've learned in class and was a great way to gain a little insight into the field of data analytics.”