Students from Five Colleges to compete in unique data-analysis event

Students from the Five Colleges will compete to see who can best analyze big data and attract the interest of employers at the 2015 ASA DataFest competition—a unique collaboration between academe, students and industry that will be held March 27–29, 2015 at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. DataFest is an annual competition in which teams of up to five undergraduate students work to reveal insights from a large and rich data set. This unique program takes data-analysis learning beyond the constraints normally encountered in a typical statistics course by enabling the students to work with big data provided by a real client.
During the 48-hour event that begins Friday evening and concludes Sunday afternoon, each team from Amherst, Hampshire, Mount Holyoke, and Smith Colleges as well as the University of Massachusetts Amherst competes head-to-head with all other teams for prizes in categories ranging from “Best Insight,” “Best Visualization” and “Best Use of External Data.” Each team presents its findings to a panel of judges—comprised of professors, data scientists, and representatives of the company or organization that provides the data set for the competition.  Perhaps just as important, the student-competitors will be trying to catch the attention of various company and organization representatives who will be attending the event to offer advice to the competitors and identify the students with the best quantitative and analytical skills for potential job opportunities.
This is the second year that ASA Five College DataFest coordinators Ben Baumer (Smith College) and Andrew Bray (Mount Holyoke) have organized the local competition that is taking college campuses by storm and engaging students in solving real-life big data problems more complex than those they are able to engage with in class.
“While many participants enjoy DataFest as a friendly competitive event, it means much more to students nearing graduation and the company reps in attendance who are seeking to recruit new statistical talent,” says Robert Gould, Professor of Statistics at UCLA and national organizer for ASA DataFest. “In the relatively short history of DataFest, numerous students showcased their statistical skill during the event and simultaneously developed contacts with employers that have led to offers of full-time employment. Students who do well at DataFest are students who have proven that they can navigate the 'data deluge.' And this is very attractive to potential employers."
Each year, the data and the challenge are different, but the common theme of making sense of big data—larger and more complex than the data sets undergraduate students usually encounter in a classroom—is carried over. The data set, which consists of real-world data that is of current interest to the providing organization or business, is not unveiled until the start of the competition so participating students cannot prepare in advance for the event. The 2014 dataset consisted of building energy data from GridPoint. The data challenged DataFest competitors to find patterns that would help a business decide to implement energy-saving steps. This year, organizers have another large data set that will challenge 2015 DataFest competitors.
DataFest was first held by the Statistics Department at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) in 2011 and expanded to Duke University the following year. This year, the DataFest program is expanding again.

Local organizations or businesses interested in supporting, sponsoring or participating in DataFest should contact Ben Baumer (, 413-585-3440) or Andrew Bray (, 413-538-2341). Click here for more information.