School of Data Science uses Rowdy Datathon to amplify a student-led tradition | UTSA today | UTSA
“Data science and artificial intelligence are going to be determinants of future success in our current global competition,” the NSA Senior Data Science Authority said. Tony Thrall. “The intelligence community needs to partner with academia and industry even more than ever.”
Thrall says he was energized by the turnout and the spirit of the event.
“NSA wanted to see if we could run a data science competition for students,” said Jianwei Niu, professor of computer science at UTSA, associate dean of University College and faculty member of SDS. “I took from the experience that UTSA had in hosting six or seven hackathons in the past and said, ‘We have a wonderful group of student leaders, so let’s see if they can take up this challenge and organize the first datathon on campus.”
Students who participated in the datathon explored data science issues with their peers and competed to investigate the socioeconomic factors that influence low birthweight and neonatal mortality. The challenge was presented as a commission by a fictitious government agency attempting to project those results to Texas in 2030.
“The Rowdy Datathon was designed with a perspective not found in other similar events,” said Juan Gutierrez, professor and director of the mathematics department at UTSA. “One of the main considerations was to expose data hackers, or ‘dackers’, to the real complexity of analyzing the data.”
Gutiérrez said there is a common misconception — even among college students — that data analysis is just coding. However, he explained that students need to learn skills such as data management, including how to handle large amounts of data or data with errors, as well as ethics in data management.
The competitors’ projects were judged by Gutiérrez and six NSA data analysts. The judges evaluated the teams based on a number of factors such as the quality of the presentation of the results, the correctness of their methodologies and the reproducibility of their results.
“At the end of the day, we want the students who participate in this challenge to grow,” Gutiérrez said. “The next iteration will refine areas that have proven to need more polishing, and with this solid foundation, we are well on our way to making the Rowdy Datathon an example to follow and a notable event in the country.”
Although all participants worked with the same data, they were divided into three streams: beginner, intermediate and advanced. This made the datathon accessible to students of any skill level, explained Roni Maddoxorganizing student specialized in environmental sciences.
“We expect that most people attending these events will either have never touched code or be freshmen and sophomores and have taken a coding course or two,” she said. “So while there is a competitive aspect and we have prizes and awards at the end of the weekend, the focus is definitely on learning.”
Although the datathon is designed to be suitable for beginners, more advanced students found plenty to keep them busy. The event featured workshops and offered students an invaluable opportunity to network and meet other students and professionals in the field.
Niu thinks it’s especially important to accept students of all skill levels in STEM fields such as computer science or data science, which she says can often seem intimidating or inaccessible to many.
“Students often become intimidated when they think about the field of data science, what data science is and if they should get into it or if they are able to,” she said. declared. “This datathon definitely provides a great opportunity for students to try. It’s the best thing we can do to help enrich the program. It’s outside the classroom and it exposes students to challenges of the real world.
Maddox said the planning team is trying to ensure that as much content as possible from the event will be made available to the public in the future. This could include recordings of some of the workshops, or even promoting the dataset and challenges.
The team is also planning future Rowdy Datathons.
“We always want to create as many opportunities as possible for as much of our community as possible,” Maddox said.
The student organizers said the dedication they have to data science students at UTSA reflects the support the organizers have received from their faculty, advisors and mentors at the university and in the community. .
“It’s not in anyone’s job description,” Millison said, “but it wouldn’t be possible without people who really want to see UTSA data science students succeed and have a big impact.”