Eight students took home prizes from the GT-IDEA Data Jam.
Students from the Luddy School of Informatics, Computing, and Engineering, the Kelley School of Business, and the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs had the opportunity to showcase their skills and possibly make an impact in a critical area during the GT-IDEA Conference on Healthcare and Life Sciences Luddy Data Jam Feb. 25-26.
Sponsored by the Grant Thornton Institute for Data Exploration for Risk Assessment and Management, an interdisciplinary institute spanning Luddy, Kelley, and O’Neill, the event featured seven teams working with a mentor from Grant Thornton and an IU faculty advisor. The groups were provided with data from the United States Department of Health and Human Services focusing on the opioid crisis in the state of Indiana and tasked with developing approaches and policies for battling the issue.
“The competition really is a reflection of the value that the initiative continues to provide,” said Travis Brown, senior executive assistant dean of innovation, entrepreneurship, and technology commercialization at Luddy. “The value is allowing students to interact with their peers from across schools while also engaging in real-world experience. It’s essentially about experiential learning, but it’s also about networking with practicing professionals.”
The teams gave eight-minute presentations on their approaches via Microsoft Teams to a panel of judges followed by a seven-minute Q&A session. The top three teams were then awarded prizes in the form of scholarships.
Judges determined that two teams—one team consisting of Ghada Al Haddad of the O’Neill School and Hasha Drabek and Venkatesh Thota from the Luddy School; and another team, featuring Li Feng from the Luddy School and Natali Jouzi from the O’Neill School—tied for top honors, with the teams each receiving $8,000 to be distributed among the group. The team of Jack Morahan and Vighnesh Kolhatkar from the Luddy School, and Minahil Qasim from the O’Neill School took home the third-place prize, earning $3,000.
The competition was initially designed to feature prizes of $8,000-$5,000-$3,000 for first, second, and third, respectively, but judges adjusted the amounts to reflect the quality of work.
“We voted multiple times, and we were stuck on the top two teams to share the prize,” Brown said. “We ended up increasing the purse so that neither team was penalized.”
Jouzi appreciated the opportunity for collaboration.
“During this whole process, I’ve learned a lot working with people from different disciplines,” Jouzi said. “Li is a master’s student in data science. This was very fast paced, and it made me learn about how to find data and problem solve in the most efficient and effective way possible. There are so many solutions, so many directions we could have gone, but we needed to focus on one problem and go from there.”
Morahan is a senior in informatics with a business cognate. He enjoyed the chance to use the skills he was taught in a classroom in a real-world setting.
“Taking an issue, investigating, and using a data-centric approach to draw insights and come up with a solution is what we’ve been trained to do at the Luddy School,” Morahan said. “It was crucial to really put the key points on our slide and deliver that storyline to the judges. That was a challenge, but I learned a lot.”
Yvette Connor, the Strategic Risk Services Leader, Risk Advisory Services for Grant Thornton, was impressed with the students.
“The problem students were presented with was not an entirely easy one,” Connor said. “The problem has a lot of complexities in today's modern environment, not just the fundamental issue of addiction and why folks become addicted, but as we begin to think about how to mitigate some of the root causes that are driving those addiction patterns forward. Thinking creatively about how to attack the problem is perhaps just as much the art as it is the science. The students got out of their comfort box, which we’re all doing these days.”
Brown was pleased with the way the teams managed to apply a focused approach to their efforts.
“It’s easy to get caught up in the weeds of the analysis and not focus sufficiently on the broader proposal that is being put forth,” Brown said. “We had students who were surprised that they would only have eight minutes to present, but I told them it was important to figure out how to get their point across that quickly. They rose to the occasion, despite the challenges of collaborating remotely, and that’s what impressed me most.”