Academia and Industry Team Up to Give College Students Big Data during Annual DataFest Competition

SANTA MONICA, Calif. - April 28, 2015 - Students from more than 20 prestigious colleges and universities recently tried their hand at “Big Data” analysis at seven different campuses around the country during DataFest, an annual month-long data-analytics competitive event sponsored by the American Statistics Association.

The ambitious and self-motivated undergraduate students of DataFest spend one weekend analyzing compelling data provided by an organization with a rich store of accessible information. In the 2015 challenge, the data was supplied by car shopping website Edmunds.com; past providers include eHarmony, GridPoint, Kiva.com and the Los Angeles Police Department.

“The students found a lot of unexpected and interesting stories to tell using the car shopping data from Edmunds,” said Mine Çetinkaya-Rundel, Assistant Professor of the Practice in the Department of Statistical Science at Duke University. Mine is a co-founder of the event, which has been running annually since 2011. She added, “I think that this experience made them truly appreciate the importance of data analysis skills required for working with large and complex datasets and made them excited for working with such data in the future.”

The vast majority of the automotive data that powers Edmunds.com’s website, iOS app, Android app and tools has been made available to the larger developer community for free at Developer Edmunds.

The company also encourages use of its data by teams in its annual Hackomotive challenge, which parallels DataFest in its encouragement of innovation. Edmunds awarded $35,000 in prizes during the 2015 event, the third of its kind.

By the end of DataFest this past weekend, more than 25 teams (approximately 100 students) from schools around the country were recognized with awards that can serve as meaningful additions to graduate school applications and résumés.

At Duke University, students David Clancy (Statistical Science & Mathematics), Tori Hall (Statistical Science), Michael Lin (Mathematics), and Gregory Poore (Biomedical Engineering), each on track to graduate in 2016, participated as team Bayes’ Anatomy, focused on analyzing and visualizing consumer preferences and behaviors. The team’s work was noticed by DataFest judges, who awarded it the Best Visualization award.

“‘Big Data’ trends are likely to generate lucrative and satisfying jobs for many of today’s brightest students, DataFest is a résumé-builder as well as a memorable and fun experience,” observed Paddy Hannon, Chief Data Officer at Edmunds.com. “We appreciated the opportunity to get involved, not only to support this worthwhile program but also to connect with students who could become members of the Edmunds.com data team someday soon.”

There are currently six open positions in Edmunds’ Business Analytics department; details can be found at Edmunds Jobs.

Other sponsors of DataFest include APT, DataCamp, Google, MassMutual Financial Group, MaxPoint, Panton Inc., RTI International, SAS and Summit. For more information on DataFest, please visit amstat.org/education/datafest.

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As with any website that has millions of unique visitors, it's a necessity that we maintain a scalable and highly-available infrastructure with reliable services.

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