Data team earns award at contest, raises questions about computer science offerings

The “Newton’s Knights” team and two Geneseo faculty who volunteered as consultants and judges (pictured above) attended Datafest at The Rochester Institute of Technology. The group won second place in the competition (courtesy of yusuf BILGIç).

Five Geneseo students took part as a team in the American Statistical Association Datafest and were awarded second place among seven competitive teams in the category of “Best in Show.” 

The competition was held in the Xerox Auditorium in the Kate Gleason College of Engineering at The Rochester Institute of Technology from March 29-31 and in total participants work for 16 hours across the contest. 

Datafest is “a celebration of data in which undergraduate teams work together to find and share meaning in a large, rich, and complex data set during the weekend,” according to their website. The specifics of the dataset used in the competition are not available for publication at this time.

Assistant professor of mathematics Yusuf Bilgiç, consultant and judge at Datafest, said that the contest allows students to work in groups to strengthen their skills about data science tools and statistics under consultancy with experts.

“At the end, teams present their findings and write a report, and awards are honored accordingly,” Bilgiç said. “Geneseo students attended last year for the first time, and this year they were awarded for their work.”

Bilgiç and Assistant Director of Systems and Networking Research Technologist Kirk M. Anne volunteered as consultants and judges.

“This year with more advanced statistics courses available, students were more ready to take part in the competition,” Bilgiç said. “Competitors are mainly statistics or data science majors from the University of Rochester and The Rochester Institute of Technology.”

Bilgiç refers to new course Math 342: Machine Learning and 343: Advanced Applied Statistics that passed the College Senate yesterday. He said that these courses aim to prepare students to have strong background in statistics and data science.

“Naturally, [students] formed a team since they all know each other from data science club,” Bilgiç said. 

The five students from Geneseo who competed at Datafest were team captain and mathematics and physics double major senior Ian Costley, mathematics and economics double major junior George Kuliner, mathematics major fifth-year Tolulope Olatunbosun, physics major junior Isaac Burmingham and applied mathematics major sophomore Salvador Galarza created the team “Newton Knights.”

“I was pretty pumped considering we competed against schools with large computer science programs,” Costley said. “I feel like [the team] complimented each other well because some of us are great with programming, others are great with the business side of things and we all contributed to the data science aspect of the competition.”

Costley said that the contest is comprised of three main categories; Best in Show, Best Visualization and Best Use of External Data. The Newton Knights placed second out of seven in the “Best in Show” category. 

“I went to Datafest last year as a participant and having competed last year, I felt comfortable with the techniques used to analyze data,” Costley said. “I kind of knew the name of the game more and I think this helped me not get caught up on things.”

Costley uses the specifics of last year’s dataset to demonstrate how the competition works, as he is not allowed to disclose the specifics of the 2019 dataset.

“Last year we were given a huge five gigabyte data set with millions and millions of rows of job postings from Indeed,” Costley said. “If you can image rows on Excel, similarly, there were rows of raw data with values. From there, we go into the process of creating graphs and analyzing relationships.” 

According to their website, Datafest was founded at UCLA in 2011 when 30 students gathered for 48 hours to analyze five years of arrest record data. Since then, Datafest became sponsored by the ASA and is hosted by numerous colleges and universities across the country. 

“I feel that the awards the students received are a wonderful observation of the efforts, commitments, and investments that the students made,” Bilgiç said. “They work hard, and they were equipped with real world techniques that allowed them to succeed. It makes me happy as a faculty member to see progress and achievements in students.” 

Bilgiç went on to figuratively compare the lack of official program for statistics and data science at Geneseo to cooking baklava.

“If you have all of the ingredients at home to cook baklava—sugar, flour … why don’t you cook it? Here at Geneseo, we have wonderful resources and a cluster of interest,” Bilgiç said “Maybe it is time to initiate a campus-wide minor and major for data science.”