School of Science, Mathematics, Physics & Astronomy

DataFest, sponsored annually by the American Statistical Association (ASA), is a celebration of data in which teams of undergrads work around the clock to find and share meaning in a large, rich, and complex data set. This year, Siena joined the party. 

Over the weekend of April 1-3, 29 students representing 15 majors in all three Schools worked in teams to analyze a large and challenging data set to gain insights. The range of majors emphasizes the interdisciplinary nature of data science.  

DataFest was founded at UCLA in 2011. Each year more than 2,000 students across the country from schools such as Duke, USC, Princeton and Dartmouth take part concurrently, and now Siena has joined their ranks.

The Siena event was organized by Kursad Tosun, Ph.D., assistant professor of mathematics and a member of the Data Science Faculty Steering Committee.

“Giving our students hands-on experience with real, live data sets is a super activity to help support their studies in the classroom” said Tosun. “They were assigned to teams and worked in Roger Bacon all weekend to analyze data sets they were given right at the start of the competition.” 

Data analysis involves evaluating data with statistical tools to discover useful information, such as tracking pandemics, exploring climate change or examining customer and voting trends.

Tosun, Matt Bellis, Ph.D., associate professor of physics, and Siena other faculty ran workshops to help students prepare for the competition. Seven outside consultants were on hand at the event to help students with their analysis. Tosun said they plan to make DataFest an annual event at Siena, possibly expanding it to include other area colleges and even high schools. 

Michael Cammarere ’23 said when he and his team members dove into their data set, they had “no idea what we were going to do.”

“With the help of the consultants and our intuition over the many hours we spent on this, we were able to take this very messy dataset and pull real results out of it,” he said. “It was a great feeling, and it was awesome to see the presentations that other group members did as well, as we all took different and unique approaches.” 

Cammarere said their classroom experience helped a great deal, especially the final project for SCDV 110 freshman year.

“That was a breeze to work with looking back compared to this!”

Michael Coppola ’22, who said he hopes to be an advisor for a future DataFest, said he and his teammates were “dead set on finding at least one piece of valuable information” in their data set.

“Going into it I knew our team would enjoy DataFest,” he said. “This year's data set was very challenging to work with, but my favorite part about it all was the balance between competition and collaboration. With how difficult it was to understand the data set at the beginning, we couldn't help but share ideas between teams to help each other get started, but I think we all had some secrets to hide from each other to keep a leg up as well!” 

"I learned a lot from DataFest, and since I don’t have much coding experience it was very helpful to talk to the older students and consultants," said Josie Swann '24. "It was a great learning experience and I look forward to next year’s event."

A listing of Siena award winners can be found here.