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DataFest this weekend challenges students' statistical and analytical smarts

March 28, 2017

Participants at 2016's DataFest at Virginia Tech

Participants at  2016's DataFest at Virginia Tech
Student participants at the 2016 DataFest held at Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech’s Computational Modeling and Data Analytics Club will host its second DataFest competition Friday through Sunday in the New Classroom Building.

DataFest is a competition for which the data and the analytical questions are provided by the American Statistical Association (ASA).

In teams, students win by being judged as having the best solutions to the questions posed for the event. Students receive the data Friday evening and have 48 hours to collaborate and problem solve with their teammates.

Teams may use whatever tools they deem necessary to analyze datasets given to them. On Sunday, the student teams present their work to a panel of judges and the winners will be presented awards, sponsored by General Dynamics.

While the problem sets provided for DataFest are meant to be more challenging than those normally faced by students in the classroom, the sets also are more open-ended. The purpose is to allow students more freedom for creative problem solving than offered in typical classroom settings, according to the DataFest competition website.

Students from nearby universities are invited to attend, and participants will be working in teams of two to five. Food will be provided. The event begins at 6 p.m. on Friday and ends at 5 p.m. Sunday.

“DataFest, sponsored by the American Statistical Association and General Dynamics, is a celebration of data in which teams of undergraduates work around the clock to find and share meaning in a large, rich, and complex data set,” said Ron Fricker, head of the statistics department.

John Higgins of McLean, Virginia, a senior double major in mathematics and statistics is serving as the primary event planner. He said his goal for this year’s event is to double the number of students involved from last year and to help more students gain job opportunities and internships.

Last year’s DataFest involved 15 participants. This year, Higgins said he expects to have around 40 participants.

The Department of Statistics and the Department of Mathematics are part of the Virginia Tech College of Science which also includes the Computational Modeling and Data Analytics program, part of the Academy of Integrated Science.

The event is designed to give undergraduates experience in data analysis, and also serve as a gathering place for the data science community, said Higgins, president of the Computational Modeling and Data Analytics Club. Along with the chance for undergraduates to work together, DataFest also provides an opportunity for studetnts to collaborate with graduate students, faculty, and professionals, Higgins added.

DataFest is an excellent opportunity for resume building and meeting potential employers, Higgins said. Recruiters will be attending the event with the intention of collecting resumes and interviewing potential employees. Judges in the competition come from such companies as General Dynamics Corp., Maximus Federal Services Inc., Eastman Chemical Co., and IST Research.

“From a student perspective, DataFest offers another opportunity to problem solve,” Higgins said. “Being overwhelmed by the data and the prompt is part of the problem, but that turns into fascinating models and useful results by the end of the weekend. When I participated last year, my favorite part was being able to tackle the open-ended problem the way I wanted to, and that lead to great conclusions.”

Written by Jessie Rogers, of Suffolk, Virginia, a junior in the Department of English, part of the College Liberal Arts and Human Sciences

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