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The Daily Tar Heel

Students face off in the first ever Carolina Data Challenge

Eyes focused on computer screens, students from across the state spent their weekend analyzing data sets and competing at the first ever Carolina Data Challenge. 

In partnership with the National Consortium for Data Science, the Odum Institute, the UNC Computer Science Department and Carolina Analytics & Data Science, the Carolina Data Challenge brought over 120 students and about 25 teams from colleges all over North Carolina to compete for multiple prizes. Prizes included an Amazon Echo Dot, Amazon gift cards, Visa gift cards and camera drones.

Lily Zhang, co-director of the Carolina Data Challenge, has been planning the event for over a year. She said participants pick a data set to analyze and produce visualizations, insights and predictive models from the set. They compete in different categories to win prizes based on what they create. 

“Oftentimes class teaches you the theoretical concepts, but you don’t always get the chance to apply your knowledge,” Zhang said. “I think that’s what this competition gives you a chance to do ... that’s your weekend and you clear your calendar and you work on this data set.”

Sophomore Alex Kan participated in the Carolina Data Challenge and analyzed data about New York City’s crime statistics. He participated to get more experience with data sets and said he looks forward to the next competition because it is different from most hack-a-thons.

“It’s a lot more interesting because everyone is given the exact same information and people come to drastically different conclusions,” Kan said.

Elaine Kearney, co-director of the Carolina Data Challenge, said the data sets used in the competition were new to the students. One of the sets used was a compilation of tweets about Hurricane Harvey and the availability of supplies in the area.

“With Hurricane Harvey, it was actually tweets, so they were extracted from Twitter and put into a format all together in a group, so I guess you can call that a data set,” Kearney said.

Moving forward, the co-directors want the Carolina Data Challenge to be used to benefit charities, the government and other organizations in the hopes of contributing beneficial analysis.

“There’s so much data out there, we can do so much good with it, just like with the Hurricane Harvey insights that people made over this weekend,” Zhang said.


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