Business analytics students secure finalist position in competition

A team of four Cornell College students is among ten teams named as finalists in an international data challenge.

Xinyi Li, Taylor Axelson ’19, Yuzhe Zheng (Scott Gasik not pictured)
(Pictured left to right) Xinyi Li, Taylor Axelson ’19, Yuzhe Zheng (Scott Gasik not pictured)

The competition was hosted by Teradata, an enterprise software company that develops and sells database analytics software, based in San Diego, California.

“I was thrilled for the students when I learned of their selection!” said Cindy Bradley, Lecturer in Business Analytics. “When you stop and think about what this entire class accomplished in 18 days versus the other finalists who were probably on a semester plan working on this since the contest was announced in February, it is absolutely amazing! Cornell College is on a very prestigious list of global higher education institutions selected as finalists in this competition.”  

Out of 40 submissions, ten were selected as finalists. Cornellians Taylor Axelson ’19, Xinyi Li, Scott Gasik, and Yuzhe Zheng worked together on the project for their Block 8 course, Analytics Case Seminar. Now they’re preparing to present their project at the 2019 Teradata Analytics Universe Conference in Denver, Colorado, Oct. 20–24. The Cornell group will compete against schools such as Carnegie Mellon University, Washington University, and ESCP Europe in October.

“We did this project in 18 school days and other schools had months and months to do this,” Gasik said. “We competed with schools worldwide, not just inside the U.S. This is a big testament to the amount of time our professors spend with us.”

During the course of the project, students worked to demonstrate their data analytics and visualization skills to help the partner of this year’s competition: Hire Heroes USA, a nonprofit organization that empowers U.S. military members, veterans, and military spouses to succeed in the civilian workforce.

“We created a predictive model, that would predict whether a veteran is likely to be hired, based on their demographic information,” Axelson said, who currently holds a data science position at Deere and Company. “We then suggested that Hire Heroes USA create different tracks for those likely to be hired and those that aren’t. This has the potential to increase the number of veterans that are hired overall by identifying vets that may need a little extra help and providing them with it.”

The students practiced their presentations in front of a panel of Cedar Rapids area data analytics experts during the course.  Bradley said they’ve learned a lot from the professional panel–specifically the process of business analytics from understanding a business problem to communicating insights from the data to business leaders using real business questions and data.

“This group did well because they focused on solving a business problem using analytics and the client’s data,” Bradley said. “Their project went beyond the mechanics of creating a predictive model to tie it back to what they were seeing in the data about the business.” 

The students are proud of everything they accomplished, and they’re eager to prepare for the October competition.

“I think we had the opportunity to learn what a real business project was like, from start to finish including all of the little, and not so little, roadblocks and challenges. What I think is most rewarding is that we completed it all in three weeks,” Axelson said.