DataFest Competition Comes to DC

Georgetown students will be participating in the inaugural D.C. DataFest this weekend, a hackathon focused primarily on statistical analysis and a branch of the annual national competition that is in its fifth year.

UCLA statistics professor Robert Gould organized the first DataFest competition in 2011 as a way to allow university students to compete for prizes and try to solve problems while also gaining exposure to employers looking for those skilled in data analysis.

In 2014, 14 universities participated in DataFest competitions, including over 400 students. Prizes included “Best Insight,” “Best Visualization” and “Best Use of External Data.”

Jennifer Folsom, an employee at Summit Consulting, a DataFest corporate sponsor, said the competition brings real world issues to an academic setting.

“DataFest uses a large, rich data set that engages bright students from a variety of disciplines without the time constraints of the classroom. The competition isn’t to solve a particular problem, but to extract insights from the data set. DataFest emphasizes the art of storytelling and shows undergraduate students how to use data analysis to solve real-world problems,” Folsom said.

American Statistical Association President David Morganstein, whose organization also sponsors the event, said although the competition focuses on statistics, past years have seen participation from a wide range of majors.

“It attracts statistics students, [and students with] majors in engineering, math, computer science and social science as well,” Morganstein said.

Fraunke Kreuter, D.C. DataFest organizer and University of Maryland professor, said that statistics is a broad enough field that students interested in different careers can also gain valuable skills from participating in the competition.

“Even if statistics is not your major you can become a good data analyst,” Kreuter said. “Knowing about the data generating process is very important; this is where students from many fields can make valuable contributions.”

Kreuter also expressed excitement about bringing the competition to the District.

“The goal of the ASA DataFest is to have a good time, improve data handling skills and learn to find and communicate meaning in a large dataset,” Kreuter said. “The ASA DataFest is giving students exposure not only to real-life data, but also to real-life challenges.”

According to the ASA, statistics has the potential to become the largest growing degree being obtained by undergraduates, with noticeably increased demand for jobs that require analyzing big data.

Morganstein said they estimate 190,000 unfilled data analytics positions nationwide by 2018. Additionally, the ASA projects a need for 1.5 million managers and analysts for big data.

“If you’re looking for a rewarding and interesting career opportunity, statistics jobs are hotter than the Fourth of July in D.C.,” Morganstein said.

He added that ASA members enjoy how DataFest exposes university students to their work.

“Many of our members at the universities sponsoring DataFest help in organizing the events and judging the students’ creative approaches. We think it’s a very exciting opportunity to demonstrate how important, and yes, how much fun, our work can be,” Morganstein said.

Folsom added that students can use DataFest as a launch for internships and careers, as the event also includes a networking reception.

“We want students to mix and mingle with public and private sector employers to better match demand with the supply of a very in-demand set of candidates,” Folsom said.

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