Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) freshmen took first prize in a Datathon contest hosted by the Rensselaer Institute for Data Exploration and Applications (IDEA) and College Factual. The Datathon was an early indicator of the potential of an NSF-sponsored initiative to teach basic data analytics to most math majors. Students on the winning team were enrolled in the DATUM Introduction to Data Mathematics class, a course that is part of that initiative. A total of 35 students from freshman to doctoral candidates on 11 different teams took part in the competition.
Datathon teams were given geographic data on over 1,000 different schools as well as a Yelp dataset with information on thousands of local businesses. Teams could use this data as well as any other publicly available data to come up with an analysis that would help prospective students during their college search.
Four teams of Rensselaer undergraduate math students from the DATUM Introduction to Data Mathematics class entered the Datathon. The winning team, Rensselaer undergraduates Miao Qi and Xiaojun Guo, created “The Most Reliable University: Individual Risk,” a math model that ranks colleges based on crime reported in the vicinity of the school. The team received a cash prize of $1,000. In addition to the first-place team, another undergraduate team, composed of Nathan Siviy, Anthony Abbazia, and Daniel Lee, took fourth place.
“RPI’s first Datathon was a wonderful opportunity for students from all years and backgrounds to exercise their creativity and analytics skills," says Tony Fischetti, College Factual’s lead data scientist.
“There’s no substitute for hands-on learning in a team where each member brings their own unique skills and ideas. Because the students are free to choose a project that interests them, they gain a sense of accomplishment they may not get from a cookie-cutter homework assignment. Further, this gave the students a taste of what a career in data science entails.”
Rensselaer IDEA was created to facilitate Rensselaer’s faculty, staff, and students to engage in interdisciplinary data-driven discovery and innovation. IDEA Director Jim Hendler, the Tetherless World Senior Constellation Professor, said, “with activities like this Datathon, the Institute helps students to see and practice real-world application of what they learn in the classroom, developing leaders in the industry who will go on to succeed and thrive in the world of big data.”
The program is a natural fit for College Factual, a data-driven decision engine helping students to make better choices about their education. According to the company, it uses public and private data about colleges in interesting and revealing ways to help students choose the best college and major for them.