West Windsor, N.J. – Mercer County Community College (MCCC) Business students proved for the second time this semester that they are all business when it comes to competing in industry competitions.
At the DataFest 2019 competition, held at Rider University April 12 to 14, a team of MCCC students faced off against nine other college teams to solve a challenging data problem. MCCC was the only community college to participate.
Their second-place finish was a real achievement, according to Professor of Business Administration Laura Sosa, who noted that the first place team, which was from Rider, was composed mostly of juniors and seniors. “The competition required computational and analytical skills, as well as collaboration, creativity and communication skills," she said.
Second-year Mercer student Ahmed Alvi, who also participated in the Case Competition at Rutgers University (RU) in March, when MCCC won first place, noted that the two competitions posed opposite problems.
“In the Rutgers competition, we had too few parameters, while at Rider we were overwhelmed with data,” Alvi said. “We had to figure out what was important and what wasn’t.” Other Mercer team members were Freddy Marin-Reyes, Cristian Ramirez and Oliver Sapon, along with an MCCC alumna who joined them at the last minute. Forty-three students in total participated in the contest.
The data came from an actual women's rugby team, which was seeking guidance on how to use performance numbers to help the coaches make better decisions. (This year’s data provider was not revealed until May 5 when the last DataFest concluded.)
The annual analysis competition was sponsored by the American Statistical Association, along with NetElixir and Google. This year, DataFest was held at 42 locations around the world, with more than 80 institutions participating, including prestigious colleges and universities such as Columbia, Duke, University of Southern California, UCLA, and Amherst College. Rider was the only DataFest host in New Jersey.
Sosa explains that there is no way to prepare for this event. “The complex dataset was not revealed until the start of the event on Friday evening. The teams got right to work,” she said.
Students worked on their analyses for the remainder of Friday evening, all day and evening on Saturday, and again on Sunday right up until it was time to present to a panel of industry professionals, which included representatives from Bristol-Myers Squibb, Neurored, Cognitive Operations and Sanofi. “On Saturday night, Mercer was one of the last teams to leave,” Sosa noted.
Each team’s presentation was limited to a set number of slides to explain what they believed to be the best data-supported insights. Students were given the freedom to select any software and tools and then analyze the data however they deemed relevant.
"This event took our students completely out of their comfort zone,” Sosa observed. “They had to making sense of large amounts of data, coupled with new software. This is not something students typically do in the classroom.”
She notes that Mercer’s team proved that concentrating solely on technology is not always the best approach. “Rather, what counts is creativity, critical thinking, adaptability, and bringing meaning to data,” Sosa said. “Our team drew from its diverse strengths and the application of relevant sports knowledge to create a winning presentation.”
Sosa observes that navigating “data deluge” is a valuable skill for students, one that is prized by employers. “DataFest is a resume-builder. It gives students a story to tell at job interviews about how they functioned on a team, how they worked under pressure, and how they would apply what they learned in the workplace."
According to event organizers, participants at Rider represented 13 different majors: accounting, finance, marketing, business analytics, sports management, information systems, supply chain management, human resource management, business administration, biology, graphic design, health care management, and management and leadership.
Figures for the first DataFest in 2011 were provided by the Los Angeles Police Department. Other organizations to provide data for the competition have included Kiva, eHamony, GridPoint, Edmunds, TicketMaster, Expedia, and Indeed.