OCTOBER 19, 2022 — The UTSA School of Data Science (SDS) recently hosted its first annual Rowdy Datathon at the National Security Collaboration Center’s (NSCC) conference space on the UTSA Main Campus. The event, a partnership between the SDS, NSCC, the Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) at UTSA and the National Security Agency (NSA), continues UTSA’s tradition of student-led computer science events.
The event brought together students from a variety of disciplines to celebrate data science, said Jenelle Millison, senior computer science major and student organizer.
“It’s students coming together, forming interdisciplinary teams to try to solve a problem they haven’t seen before in kind of a rush but also a fun, really concentrated weekend of events,” she said.
The NSA reached out to UTSA to host the event since the university is one of the NSA’s core data science partners.
“Data science and artificial intelligence are going to be determinants of future success in our current global competition,” said NSA Senior Data Science Authority Tony Thrall. “The intelligence community needs to partner even more than ever with both academia and industry.”
Thrall says he was energized by the event’s participation and spirit.
“The NSA wanted to see if we could organize a data science competition for students,” said Jianwei Niu, UTSA professor of computer science, associate dean of University College and an SDS faculty member. “I leveraged the experience UTSA has had in organizing six or seven hackathons in the past and said, ‘We have a wonderful group of student leaders, so let’s see if they can take on this challenge and organize the first datathon on campus.’”
Students who attended the datathon explored data science questions with their peers and competed to investigate the socioeconomic factors that influence low birthweight and newborn mortality. The challenge was framed as a commission by a fictitious government agency attempting to project these outcomes in Texas in the year 2030.
“The Rowdy Datathon was designed with a perspective not found in other similar events,” said Juan Gutiérrez, professor and chair of the UTSA Department of Mathematics. “One of the main considerations was to expose data hackers, or ‘dackers’ to the real complexity of data analysis.”
Gutiérrez said there is a common misconception—even among students—that data analysis is just coding. However, he explained that students must learn skills such as data management, including how to cope with large amounts of data, or data with errors, as well as ethics within data management.
The competitors’ projects were judged by Gutiérrez and six data analysts with the NSA. The judges evaluated the teams based on a number of factors such as how well they presented the results, the soundness of their methodologies, and the reproducibility of their results.
“In the end, we want students who participate in this challenge to grow,” Gutiérrez said. “The next iteration will refine areas that proved to need more polishing, and, with this solid foundation, we are well on our way to make the Rowdy Datathon an example to follow and a notable event in the nation.”
Although all participants worked with the same data, they were split into three tracks: beginner, intermediate and advanced. This made the datathon accessible to students of any skill level, explained Roni Maddox, a student organizer majoring in environmental science.
“We expect that most of the people who attend these events have either never touched code or they’re freshmen and sophomores and they’ve taken one or two programming classes,” she said. “So even though there is a competitive aspect and we have prizes and awards at the end of the weekend, the emphasis is definitely on learning.”
Although the datathon is designed to be beginner-friendly, more advanced students found plenty to keep them occupied. The event featured workshops and provided students an invaluable opportunity to network and meet other students and professionals in the field.
Niu believes that accepting students regardless of skill level is especially important in STEM fields such as computer or data science, which she said can often seem daunting or unattainable for many.
“Students often become intimidated when thinking about the field of data science, what data science is and if they should go into it or if they’re able to,” she said. “This datathon definitely offers a great opportunity for students to try. This is the best thing we can do to help enrich the curriculum. It’s outside the classroom and it exposes students to real-world challenges.”
Maddox said the planning team is trying to ensure that as much content as possible from the event will be made accessible to the public in the future. This could include recordings of some of the workshops, or even promoting the dataset and challenges.
The team is also planning for future Rowdy Datathons.
“We still want to create as many opportunities for as much of our community as possible,” Maddox said.
The student organizers said the dedication they have to data science students at UTSA reflects the support the organizers have received from their faculty, advisors and mentors at the university and in the community.
“This isn’t in anybody’s job description,” Millison said, “but it wouldn’t be possible without people who really want to see UTSA data science students succeed and have a big impact.”
Inaugural Rowdy Datathon winners:
The UTSA University Career Center invites you to attend the STEM Career Expo from 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Feburary 8. Meet, connect and recruit UTSA students and alumni.H-E-B Student Union Ballroom, HSU 1.104-1.106
The UTSA University Career Center invites you to attend the All Majors Career Expo from 2 to 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Feburary 8. Meet, connect and recruit UTSA students.H-E-B Student Union Ballroom, HSU 1.104-1.106
This competition is for students who are working on a project and prototype and want to assess the market opportunity and commercial potential of their technology in a risk-free environment.Science and Engineering Building, SEB 1.150G
Citation managers such as Zotero® can help you store and organize the citations you find during your research. Zotero can also generate bibliographies in various styles, insert in-text citations and allow you to share sources with collaborators.Virtual event
Chiquita Collins, vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion and chief diversity officer at UT Health San Antonio, will virtually engage in conversation regarding the 2023 Black History Month theme, “Resistance. Persistence. Excellence.”Virtual event
The Carlos Alvarez College of Business and the Alvarez Student Success Center will host their Second Annual Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Symposium. The theme for this year is inclusive leadership. The featured keynote speaker will be Melissa Majors, author of “The 7 Simple Habits of Inclusive Leaders.”H-E-B Student Union Ballroom, HSU 1.106
Join your fellow Roadrunners for the annual Heart Health Walk. If you can’t meet up on campus, get outside and walk for at least 10 minutes at 9 a.m. Walkers are encouraged to wear red and post their pictures to Instagram using the hashtag #28DaysOfHeartAtUTSA.Rowdy Statue, Sombrilla Plaza
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