A team of Normandale Community College students finished second in the advanced division of the Minnesota State IT Center of Excellence (MN STATE IT COE) annual Data Derby competition held on April 17, 2021.
The Minnesota State Data Derby is one of the annually sponsored and organized events. This competition gives students from across the state a chance to use their Data Science and analytic skills to solve real life problems.
"I think that fact that we have had two teams of students place in the advanced level in this competition, competing and placing against universities is a testament to how well students can perform at the community college level," said Normandale Data Science instructor Yeng Miller-Chang. "Having taught this class for four semesters, there are often people who think that because we are at a community college level we can't compete against students at these levels, and the fact that we placed twice now is evidence to the contrary. It makes me feel very hopeful for data science education when we are able to get this potential and results out of students within their first and second semesters."
The Normandale students were Adrian Bui, Leah Gunderson and Kenzer Hodgson Hammond, and Miller-Chang was their coach and instructor. The students all took DSCI 2000 (Foundations of Data Science) during the 2020-21 academic year, a class that Miller-Chang has taught since Fall 2019. The team of students finished second in a division made up of four-year university teams.
"The Data Science course was an eye opener at least for me because I didn't know that much about R, Python or any programming language to analyze data before I took the class," said Hodgson Hammond. "Since I took the course, I have been able to do things much faster and easier. This class made us ready for any type of competition because Professor Yeng basically taught us everything that we needed from how to analyze a very dirty data set, and how to clean it up, process it and show findings to stakeholders who need to know about it. I think he did great job setting up the course."
This year over 60 students on 20 different teams from nine colleges or universities were tasked with analyzing bolometer data from NSAA and NOAA. The goal was to standardize that data, find relationships and correlations between the data and any observed patterns within the data. Students were given six weeks to work on the problem and create a 5-10 minute You Tube Video Presentation.
Six of the teams were invited back as the finalist to present in front of 10 faculty and industry members serving as Data Judges.
"It was really rewarding because we put a lot of hard work into this project, long hours and lots of coding," said Gunderson. "When we first got the email saying we were in the top three I was ecstatic and that was good enough for me. It was a really great experience to present and go over our findings with everyone. Then when we got second I couldn't believe what we had accomplished."
Minnesota State IT Center of Excellence (MN STATE IT COE), one of eight Minnesota State Centers of Excellences, provides high school and college students a variety of resources and programs to support the ever-changing world of Information Technology and Computer Science. The Center has contributed significantly by reaching out to thousands of secondary students, funded dozens of new curriculum efforts, and leads numerous other efforts aimed at increasing the quality and quantity of IT talent in the state.
"Our team was very supportive and fun to work with," said Bui. "That was a huge plus. When we worked together, we would get energy from solving problems and overall we enjoyed the process. It was a good feeling that we accomplished this during a tough year, and Professor Yeng mentioned we were the only community college that placed at the advanced level. We competed with other universities that were strong and had a lot of resources, but Professor Yeng was calm and made sure we would do this together and figure it out. I think we can do anything as long as we are very committed to it."