Master's students win top prizes in international data analytics competition

Friday, October 27, 2017

Two graduate student teams from UNC Charlotte won three major awards in the 2017 Teradata University Network (TUN) Data and Analytics Challenge, an international data analytics competition.

One team received the Overall Winner (first place) and also People’s Choice Award in the competition. The team was made up of five graduate students in the Professional Science Master’s in Data Science and Business Analytics (DSBA) program: Esra Alshammari, Aysha Nahan, Noelline Dsouza, Shaarvani Karvula, and Vinaya Tinguria under the supervision of Belk College of Business faculty member Reza Mousavi, assistant professor of business information systems and operations management and an assistant professor of data science and business analytics. DSBA students Robyn Levine, Rowena Palima and Lyndsay Richter, also advised by Mousavi, did not present in the finals competition but were recognized with an honorable mention in the Data Challenge.

Mousavi said the purpose of the team’s project was to help Rise Against Hunger, a North Carolina-based charity aimed at eliminating hunger in underprivileged areas. In this year’s competition, students were provided the same data set to examine, analyze, visualize and present their findings and results. The challenge was to identify marketing opportunities for the nonprofit partner, Rise Against Hunger (formerly Stop Hunger Now), which provides food and life-changing aid to the world’s most vulnerable communities.

“The team deployed a diverse set of innovative data science techniques, first dealing with a huge amount of seemingly unstructured data, then applying advanced analytical methods and finally extracting useful insight and effectively communicate the results to the stakeholders,” Mousavi said. “The team’s tremendous effort in prescribing data-driven actionable strategies for Rise Against Hunger paid off, and they brought home two trophies and 16 medals.”

In the Analytics Challenge, DSBA students Saritha Ramkumar, Madlen Ivanova, Kartik Niyogi, Sampa Sanyal and MBA student Sugandha Mann, under the supervision of Sangkil Moon, were awarded for the best use of Analytics and Visualization tools.

Moon, a faculty advisor and the Cullen Endowed Professor of Marketing in the Belk College of Business, said the students’ passion and hard work were incredible.

“The team I advised conducted a challenging project dealing with a huge number of Yelp reviews on the restaurants in Charlotte, which required sophisticated data cleaning techniques. To create practical insights for restaurant managers, they used the rich and deep restaurant reviews directly from consumers as the voice of the market. By conducting market segmentation, they provided useful managerial advice customized for the restaurants' business conditions. Their passion and commitment was incredible. This work showcases UNC Charlotte’s ability to produce high-quality talent in data science and business analytics,” Moon said.

The UNC Charlotte student teams competed against students from exceptional schools from around the world, including NIDA Thailand, California State University, Singapore Management University and Texas A&M. UNC Charlotte received three of the six possible awards.

Finalist teams from various universities across the United States and around the world gave their presentations in the inaugural day of 2017 Teradata Partners Conference held Oct. 22-26 at Anaheim, California. More than 3,000 attendees, including some of the world’s most advanced data and analytics experts and business leaders representing more than 900 companies in 45 countries, were at the conference.

Since 2014, the Teradata University Network has organized student competitions through both a Data Challenge and an Analytics Challenge. This year, UNC Charlotte had the highest representation among the finalists and honorable mentions across both challenges. From more than 70 submissions, just 17 finalists were selected, three of which were the winning UNC Charlotte teams.

Mirsad Hadzikadic, executive director of the UNC Charlotte Data Science Initiative, said these international awards showcase the strengths of UNC Charlotte’s data science and business analytics programs, students and faculty members.

“This is the second year that UNC Charlotte students in the DSBA and MBA programs have competed in this challenge and the second year our students have qualified and won in the finals. I believe that the foundation for our students’ success lies in the interdisciplinary nature of UNC Charlotte’s approach with the Data Science Initiative,” Hadzikadic said.

The Data Science Initiative (DSI) at UNC Charlotte is an industry-university-state partnership, led by the College of Computing and Informatics, the Belk College of Business, the College of Health and Human Services and the College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. The Data Science Initiative brings academia and industry together to turn data into knowledge and knowledge into insight to see what’s possible in the new digital age. Learn more online at

Watch a brief video featuring some of the winning students.

Photo (l to r) Vinaya Tinguria, Noelline Dsouza, Aysha Nahan, Esra Alshammari and Shaarvani Karvula