Over the weekend students spent a grueling 48 hours analyzing, compiling and making sense of a vast data set in the American Statistical Association DataFest.

Four teams competed to analyze, compile and present an amount of data in an effective manner.

A graduate team — self-titled “The Visards” — won the award for Best in Show for their work over the weekend.



A member of the winning team, Eswar Damraju, spoke highly of the event.

“It was good experience to see how the industry uses large data sets,” he said.

DataFest is nationally sponsored by the American Statistical Association and Google, and it made its first appearance at UNM over the weekend.

The event, which began on Friday and concluded Sunday afternoon, was a concrete way for students to use classroom skills in the real world. Practicing skills learned by professors, participants received large amounts of data from businesses sponsoring the event.

From there, students used statistical programs to organize, analyze and present the information. Participants vied to win one of three categories: Best in Show, Best Use of External Data and Best Visualization.

Participants made presentations to a panel of judges who awarded the participants.

Graduate and undergraduate students from engineering, math, computer science, statistics and the social sciences participated in the event.

Though the weekend ended with one winner, all participants went home with an accomplishment, said Erik Erhardt, an associate statistics professor and organizer 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,” Erhardt said.

He pointed out that prospective employers will be impressed to see a qualification like DataFest on any applicant’s resume.

“It was a good opportunity to explore new tools,” said participant Roger Silva. “I wanted to see some examples of real-world applications of data.”

Patrick DeBonies, another participant and member of the only undergraduate team, said DataFest was a fun challenge.

“To get the millions of observations companies make and tell our own story was fun. There was a creative side to it,” he said.

Erhardt said he enjoyed seeing the teamwork students displayed.

“I love seeing groups of students work together to solve a very hard problem,” he said. “It’s a very practical skill. Problems these days are too complicated to solve on your own.”

DataFest began in 2011 and was first hosted by University of California, Los Angeles. The competition quickly spread across the nation. This year, there are over 30 events with 40 universities participating.

Many renowned universities like Columbia, Duke and Yale have participated in DataFest, which will continue through May 7.

In past years data microlending firms, online dating companies and other entrepreneurial sites have provided data for analysis.

For the first competition, participants received 10 million arrest records provided by the Los Angeles Police Department. Data has since been provided by microlending sites, online dating services and data management providers. Big company names like eHarmony.com, Edmonds.com and TicketMaster have also provided data for participants to analyze.

Though in its first year at UNM, Erhardt and the 2017 participants hope DataFest can grow into something larger next year. Erhardt hopes the event inspires students by challenging them to ask: “What is possible to do with data?”

Brendon Gray is a news reporter for the Daily Lobo. He can be reached at news@dailylobo.com or on Twitter 
@notgraybrendon.