Students Gain Valuable Skills, Experience at DataFest

Six Meredith students spent the weekend of April 9-11, 2021, flexing their data knowledge and building connections in the field by participating in ASA DataFestTM, a data analysis competition.

According to Assistant Professor of Mathematics Emily Lada, who organized the student teams, the data this year was provided by Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Safety center. The challenge was to discover and identify patterns of drug use, with particular attention paid to identifying misuse. Analyses of this data could be used to help physicians predict future drug misuse cases.

The Meredith teams included students majoring in mathematics, economics, biology, chemistry, and dual engineering-electrical engineering. Participating students were Sydney Lang, ’21, Katie Thompson, ’21, Sarah Jennings, ’22, Mwende Mumo, ’23, Reyna Cisneros, ’22, and Kelly Mae Allen, ’23. Assistant Professor of Mathematics Dylan Glotzer also helped mentor the students. Team One, the “Analyzing Angels,” focused on data collected in the U.S. Team Two, “the Avenging Analysts,” decided to focus on data collected in Germany. Both teams prepared a final presentation and one-page write-up of their results for the judges.

 “I honestly was amazed by how much these students were able to accomplish in one weekend!” said Lada. “Survey data was provided for multiple countries, with hundreds of variables. Just sorting through all of that data and formulating focused, meaningful questions to study was a challenge! After formulating their questions, the students used various data wrangling and visualization techniques to investigate their questions.”

Lada said the event allows students to work as part of a team on a large-scale project under time constraints, a skill that is applicable in any field. In addition, the students can take whatever direction they choose with the analysis, unlike in a classroom setting where students are often told what analysis they should do. Lada notes there is a creative aspect to data science that can be difficult to teach in a classroom.

“Opportunities like this give students a chance to explore freely and to learn how and when certain methods they have studied in the classroom can be applied in practice,” she said.

Katie Thompson, ’21, was a member of Team One. She enjoyed creating some “super cool visualizations” with Tableau, a visual analytics platform. A mathematics major who is minoring in data science, statistics, and website development, Thompson also found it a valuable experience as an aspiring data scientist.

“Having the real-world application of participating in DataFest and providing insights to solving a complex problem in our world today is something that I would do in my career,” said Thompson. “More importantly, this experience was a jump start to a lifelong career of doing just that.”

She noted that there were participants from different schools attending all across the world with a multitude of different backgrounds.

“In the end, that did not matter. What mattered was that we had a place at the table to learn and grow in our shared passion for data,” she said.

Data Science at Meredith

In fall 2020, Meredith’s Mathematics and Computer Science Department began offering a minor in data science. The importance of data science has grown as data has become increasingly integrated into daily life. That integration means students in a variety of disciplines can benefit from learning how to make data-driven decisions. Data analysis techniques are among the skills employers increasingly look for, both for internships and jobs.

Students who complete the minor learn to collect and prepare data for analysis; exhibit a broad base of knowledge of languages, data visualization, and analysis techniques; interpret results, form conclusions, and communicate findings; and demonstrate professional and ethical behaviors and attitudes.

Melyssa Allen

News Director
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