Normandale Students Finish Third in Data Derby Contest

By Steven Geller - Director of Media and Public Relations

Normandale Community College Data Science students finished third in the advanced division of the Minnesota State Data Derby hosted by Minnesota IT Center of Excellence.

Normandale was the only community college in the competition, and joined 10 university teams, six from Metropolitan State University, three from Minnesota State University, Mankato and two from University of Minnesota, Duluth.

The Normandale students who competed were Jason Gower, Lucas Kivi, Chris Sonsak and Andrew Vick. Their faculty advisor was Normandale Data Science instructor Yeng Miller-Chang.

"It was a great experience to learn the work with the team and figure how to apply it for situations like this competition," said Vick. "These are skills we will need in the future, and it was great to apply what we learned in class to the competition. My experience in this class and the competition has made me think about switching my major focus from Computer Science to Data Science for a major at Metro State."

This was the second data analytics competition that Normandale students have participated in during the 2019-20 academic year. Earlier this year, data science students from Normandale competed in the MinneMUDAC Challenge.

"It was amazing to see such a motivated group of students come together to work on something in a field that that I am very passionate about," said Miller-Chang. "I am proud of our students. It was rewarding for a second straight semester to see a group of student internalize the material they are passionate about studying, and succeed in a real-world application to what they are learning in the class."

The data for the competition was provided by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency (MPCA). There were three datasets related to recycling in all Minnesota counties, including materials, residential recycling, commercial recycling, weight of different wastes, expenditure and revenue related to recycling. With the support and leadership of faculty members from across the State of Minnesota, student were asked to answer several research and analytic questions and present their findings. 

"We learned all the tools we needed to succeed for this competition and the manipulation of data in our Data Science class," said Kivi. "It really gave us what we needed in terms of the software we use, and the homework allowed us to do trial runs for the derby as in analyzing the data and seeing how it worked out. It helped us to go into the Data Derby having that experience, and being familiar with the tools made it easier."

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. 

"I enjoyed the challenge of being able to work with a very open-ended question and data set where the direction to take was not clear," said Jason Gower. "Through our Data Science class, we were given the tools and exposure to approach the problem. I felt like we were set up to succeed from the very beginning to attack the problem because of our experience. Overall, it was a really cool challenge."

Registration is open for the Fall 2020 online offering of DSCI 2000. If you have any questions, contact Yeng Miller-Chang at