A University of Oregon team faced off against some of the top analytics programs in the country, ultimately besting 78 others at the 2016 SAS Analytics Shootout Annual Student Competition.
The top three finishers were announced in August, but the UO team of Lundquist College of Business students had to wait to learn of their first place finish at the annual SAS Analytics Conference, held this September 12-14 at the Bellagio in Las Vegas.
Li-Wei Hsieh, Kent Newgard, and Shao-Geng Wei, all class of 2016, joined now senior Business Honors Program students Ben O’Connor, Arthur Stromquist, and Connor Yap.
“Only a few teams from other universities were made up entirely of undergrad students,” said Wenbo Wu, UO assistant professor of operations and business analytics and faculty advisor to the team. “They competed with masters and PhD students and still won first place.”
And he should know. As a PhD student, Wu was on the winning team for the competition in both 2014 and 2015 (representing the University of Georgia).
“This win makes me happiest. I told my students about my experience and they got interested,” he said.
The winning students took Wu’s OBA 410: Big Data class during the winter 2016 term. He is teaching this course now during fall term and will again in winter 2017.
“We found that this course is popular among students,” he said. “We have a long waiting list. So we are doing it twice a year this time. I’m glad students find it useful.”
The competition was sponsored by analytics, business intelligence, and data software company SAS and The Institute for Health & Business Insight at Central Michigan University.
The annual student competition asks participants to take on a complex problem using SAS software and advanced analytics, the organizers explained. Student teams are given a collection of datasets and encouraged to use a variety of analytical methods to address the problem. They then produce a comprehensive report that is evaluated by a team of judges made up of data scientists, analysts, and professors.
The winning team’s advisor and captain receive complementary travel and accommodations to the annual SAS Analytics Conference, where they are recognized for their work and give a presentation on their project.
“The Oregon team was presented as the winner to over 1,000 people,” Wu said. “And made connections for potential interviews and positions.”
The 2016 competition teams were tasked with studying the impacts of an aging U.S. population based on the following problem statement:
The oldest of the baby boomer cohort have just begun to turn 65 years old. By 2029, the entire cohort will be 65 or older and is projected to comprise over 20 percent of the U.S. population. Currently in their early 50’s to late 60’s, what sorts of impacts can we expect and anticipate as the population ages?
Students received the problem statement and related data sets in January, decided to form a team and move forward in March, and submitted their 103-page, 26,000-word report in June. The judges use a double-blind method to assess each team’s report.
“We checked the SAS website every day,” said Hsieh. “We knew August 12 was the deadline to let everyone know the top three. In prior years, they had let the top teams know earlier, so we were a little worried. Then we got the email saying come to the conference in 30 days. And plan a speech.”
In addition to the announcement of the top three winners’ places, the conference also featured presentations by both the CEO and COO of SAS, the CTO of Levi Strauss, an employee from tech incubator Jigsaw (formerly Google Ideas), and the opportunity to chat with Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics. Intel, KPMG, Merck, DataKind, and the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs were also represented, among others.
The team win is also a win for Lundquist’s Department of Operations and Business Analytics. SAS is donating $5,000 to the department and is interested in partnering with the university to aid the business analytics program.
Hsieh, O’Connor, and team captain Newgard say the experience has left them considering career path pivots to data science.
“It’s a new field,” Hsieh said. “At UW, they just started thinking about adding courses where as here we already had it. There are also a lot of jobs out there in data.”