First Annual Business Analytics Conference and Competition Explores Art and Science of Decision-Making

Attracting participants from 13 colleges and universities from across the nation, the events included a variety of field experts and industry leaders as well as an exciting competition for undergraduate students.

With the proliferation of “big data” — digital data that gets stored and processed daily — there’s a rising need for thought leaders in the field of analytics.

Manhattan College became a data scientist destination as it hosted the first annual Business Analytics Conference and Competition (BAC@MC) from May 19-21. The events featured industry leaders and included an exciting opportunity for undergraduate students studying business analytics (or related fields) to test their knowledge and develop their skills. Competing students engaged in the “art & science” of decision-making, while practicing their ability to draw business insights through comprehensive analyses of data in creative ways.

Esteemed Manhattan College alumnus David Ferrucci ’83, Ph.D., set the tone with opening keynote remarks on May 20. Ferrucci, currently a senior technologist for Bridgewater Associates, is most famous for his work as the principal investigator for DeepQA (“Watson”) Project, the computer system that beat the best players of all time in the question-answer game of Jeopardy! Ferrucci’s talk, “AI: A Return to Meaning” focused on the ongoing development and the challenges of artificial intelligence.

In addition to a keynote from David G. Belanger, Ph.D., senior research fellow at Stevens Institute of Technology, Manhattan College professor Mehmet Ulema, Ph.D., moderated a lively panel, Trends and Issues of Business Analytics. Distinguished speakers Yurdaer Doganata, Ph.D. (IBM), Mike DeAngelo (Cisco), Winter Mason (Facebook), and Peter Rutigliano, Ph.D. (Sirota Consulting) discussed a range of issues from cyber security to the ethical use of big data to aid both government and non-governmental domains. 

Up next was the competition, which was the main focus of the week’s events. More than a dozen teams each comprised of two to four undergraduates went head-to-head in a two-phase contest that honed their knowledge of analytics and was judged by a panel of faculty advisers and practitioners.

To prepare for the first phase of the competition, competing teams created posters based on data and questions that were made available to competing teams in January 2015. They presented their work during a judge-attended poster session held on May 20.

Directly after the poster presentations on the first day of the conference, teams were provided with additional questions and data on the same theme. For phase two, teams were asked to present their solutions to a judging panel on the second day of the conference. A panel of faculty advisers, as well as practitioners representing various industries and employers, judged the competition. Teams were ranked by combining the two scores from both phases.

The top three teams were recognized during an award ceremony, which included a keynote from Gregory Brill, co-founder and CEO of global consultancy firm Infusion Development. This year’s winners were Clarkson University in third; University of San Francisco in second; and Pace University in first place, earning the grand prize of $2,000 and an invitation to submit a paper to a peer reviewed journal.

“It took months of preparation but it was highly worth it,” says Clive Cadillo, a member of the Pace University team, who began working with the data in January. “Phase two was definitely the most intense part of the competition since the short amount of time combined with lack of sleep led to unclear decision making, but overall was the most unique part of it.”

“Take advantage of the opportunity,” Cadillo advises future competitors. “Being located in New York City, it is a great time to explore what [the city] has to offer.”

By Sarah Schwartz