OCTOBER 31, 2023 — Hundreds of students from around the country converged on the UTSA School of Data Science this weekend to compete in the beginner, intermediate and advanced tracks of the Rowdy Datathon.
Hosted by the Association of Computing Machinery (ACM) at UTSA in partnership with the National Security Agency (NSA), the datathon was a weekend-long event where students worked through the night to collaborate on data science projects, learn new skills and make connections within the data science community.
This year’s datathon was the second to be hosted by UTSA. Building on the success of the inaugural event in October 2022, this year’s challenge boasted even more contestants, said senior environmental science major and Rowdy Datathon Director Roni Maddox.
“The format and spirit of the event were definitely the same, but we have over double the number of participants this year from last year,” Maddox said.
While Maddox and her team were anticipating 150 participants, she says the number was closer to 175, with another 70 putting their names on the waitlist. Part of this surge in attendance came from increased awareness about the datathon outside the San Antonio region.
“We had a ton of interest from non-UTSA students, from out-of-state schools and other Texas schools. And the diversity of majors this year was really awesome to see,” Maddox said. “I feel like we’ve been growing on lots of different fronts, and it’s exciting to see the community grow as well.”
This year’s datathon had a Wild West flavor with its theme, “Rowdy, Rowdy West.” Participating students, called data hackers or “dackers,” had the opportunity to work together and solve a data-science-centered challenge.
Maddox said this year’s datasets focused on education and resource allocation for schools. Participants also examined the factors that influence student success and resource allocation by state and local governments. This means that the ideas and solutions that the students developed in response to the challenge had implications beyond a weekend coding experience with classmates and friends.
“The students are working with real-world data and they’re looking at real-world problems while learning really important data science skills that can translate into any field,” Maddox said.
As with last year’s Rowdy Datathon, the event featured beginner, intermediate and advanced tracks to ensure that participants of all skill levels could learn and grow as data scientists. Participants had the opportunity to attend workshops to learn more about a variety of programming tools, all of which were tailored to the students’ level of experience. The goal, said Maddox, was to ensure nobody felt overwhelmed by the controlled chaos that was the all-night data science affair.
“We wanted to emphasize giving people little wins throughout the event,” she said, “because we felt like if you’re building their confidence and momentum and helping them through the challenge, by the end they’ll be more confident in themselves as data scientists.”
In addition to boasting more participants, the teams competing in this year’s datathon were bigger, Maddox added.
“We had more funding than last year, which I’m really excited about, and we have more support from multiple university departments and organizations that are involved,” she said. “Our little data science community in general is growing and that’s very exciting—to see so many wanting to invest in the UTSA community. I think it’s been a wonderful collaborative opportunity for us here on campus.”
The reception to this year’s event will help Maddox and her team secure funding and other support to ensure that the Rowdy Datathon is a valuable data science asset to UTSA and the San Antonio community for years to come.
“Because that’s definitely the goal,” Maddox added, “to be available as a resource for students as much as possible.”
The datathon is an example of the experiential learning opportunities that are available to students at UTSA to help them gain the hard and soft skills in demand by employers. The competition enabled participants to tackle a real-world problem using their data-science skills. Additionally, the students who hosted the datathon gained experience and an understanding of what it takes to successfully execute a large-scale, multi-day event.
As part of its strategic plan, UTSA aims for 75% of its undergraduate students to participate in some type of experiential learning by the time they graduate.
The UTSA School of Data Science is the only school of its kind in the nation at a Hispanic Serving Institution.
Come celebrate the doctoral students graduating this commencement season.H-E-B Student Union Ballrooms, UTSA Main Campus
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