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NC State Jenkins MBA Team Advances to Finals in 2018 TUN Data Challenge

A team of four NC State Jenkins MBA students took a deep dive into the Teradata University Network (TUN) during their spring 2018 semester, and emerged wiser and more skilled in data analytics and related tools that enabled them to translate data into useful information for their client.

The Jenkins MBA team – Jaideep Basak, Anjanie Kashidas, Ryan Randall and Dena Simkus – was one of 45 MBA teams from around the world competing in the 2018 TUN Data Challenge, and one of five selected as finalists. Poole College Professor David Baumer is their faculty advisor.

Also in the finals are teams from ESCP Europe, Loyola University Chicago, University of Waterloo, and Washington University St. Louis. Each finalist team is receiving one student and one faculty scholarship to attend the Teradata Analytics Universe Conference in Las Vegas, Nev., October 14-18.

The goal of the Analytics Challenge is to provide students with an opportunity to present their business analytics research or application cases to professionals in the business analytics community.

For this competition, the teams analyzed data and business questions provided by the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS) related to its Bike MS program, and presented their findings and results in a summary document and slide presentation. NMSS is a TUN non-profit partner.

Based in New York City with chapters located throughout the United States, NMSS funds research, advocates for social and political change, provides education, and sponsors services that help people with multiple sclerosis and their families. Its major fundraiser is an annual bicycle ride, with riders securing pledges in support of NMSS. Improving results of that fundraiser was a goal of this competition.

The Jenkins MBA team participated in the competition as part of their Decision Analytics Practicum course, MBA 590, a requirement for Poole College’s Data Analytics Certificate program, designed to help develop management professionals who can understand and apply big data analysis to make meaningful decisions.

“The MBA curriculum included statistics, forecasting, and in this practicum course, we had a chance to use the concepts learned in those courses,” Basak said. A second Jenkins MBA team also competed but did not advance.

Randall said he was able to apply what he was learning in his statistics class – which he was taking that the same time – to the practicum. “It was an opportunity to hone the skills I was using in the class – a lot of the diagrams, heat maps, things that I didn’t (previously) know how to do but was able to do using JMP® software. The software, which provides a variety of ways of understanding, visualizing and communicating what date is conveying, is available to NC State students through a campus license, and it is one of the tools the team used to present its findings in its final report.

Kashidas said working with the project expanded her understanding and capability with JMP®, and also learned how to clean data and get accurate results.

An interest in management consulting and business strategy, which require supporting decisions with data, drew Simkus to the competition. “I saw this as a good opportunity to use some of the cross-functional learning (in the Jenkins MBA program). Analytics was a big piece of it, but we also needed to be sure we understood the real questions that the client was asking – and that required supply chain, everything that we had learned so far, so it really was a capstone experience,” she said.

Baumer said that NSMS provided “great but ragged data sets” which enabled the team “to gain useful insights.” Their translation of those insights into meaningful information for the company earned them a spot in the finals. “They accomplished this nicely,” he said.

Team Members’ Key Takeaways

Jaideep Basak: “I learned that there are a lot of data in data sets that are not evident by just looking at them. You have to do a lot of profiling, drawing conclusions from the data sets and statistics. I’m definitely interested in the big data space and in working as a business analyst. It’s somewhat related to my current career; I’m sure it’ll help me to grow in my current job as well.”

Anjanie Kashidas: “I learned a lot from my teammates (about the) value of collecting data and how you can use it. In the classroom, it’s by the book, but in the real world it’s not as clean; you have to try to take insights and answers from that.”

Ryan Randall: “With my background as a scientist, it allowed me to visualize data sets a lot larger than what I’m used to. Another useful skill: understanding the strengths and weaknesses of your team members – who was good at what – and giving people an understanding of how you did something, learning from each other.”

Dena Simkus: “One of the areas I bring in is to make a cohesive message. The big thing that this project (showed) me is that real world business problems are messy, but if you use data and focus on the core issue – in this case, maximizing revenue. Also, make sure your questions remain consistent and provide the data needed.

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This post was originally published in Jenkins MBA News.