A team of LMU M.S. in Business Analytics (MSBA) students competed for cash prizes in the 2020 COVID-19 Computational Challenge, sponsored by the City of Los Angeles and RMDS, the largest data scientist and researcher community in the United States. The LMU team, comprised of Eric Wu, Vincent Chen, Kayla Tanli and Zuo Zuo, built a tool to help L.A. residents make safer choices based on the risk of exposure to COVID-19 while incorporating the ethical protection of individual data and respected data privacy norms.
A total of 408 contestants, 66 teams, 48 mentors and 12 judges from four continents (Asia, Europe, Africa and North America) participated in the competition. Teams had two weeks to build solutions, such as algorithms, and were required to share any code developed for potential use by other cities. Projects were reviewed by a panel of judges, including LMU Assistant Professor of Information Systems and Business Analytics Au Vo.
“This competition helped me understand the severity of COVID-19 in California and around the world and how urgent it is to solve this issue,” said Kayla Tanli ’20. “It’s exciting to know that the model our team developed can be used to help battle COVID-19 as well as other diseases.”
LMU was one of three teams, including USC and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (Troy, NY), that advanced to the implementation stage whose visualized risk score system became publicly available.
“I was very impressed by the LMU MSBA team, especially their innovative spirit and their Python and R coding skills,” said Alex Liu, founder of RMDS and former chief data scientist at IBM.
In fact, the team was invited by RMDS to deliver a presentation about the competition and give a pre-conference workshop on the methods they used at the I AM DATA Conference 2020.
“Competitions like this are wonderful opportunities for our students to learn, apply new methods and connect with data analytics practitioners,” said Zhen ‘Richard’ Tang, the team’s mentor and assistant professor of marketing at LMU.
Sijun Wang, LMU MSBA program co-director, noted, “We can train students in quantitative methods in a year, but it takes many years of practice and experience to master the skills of transferring a real-life problem into a data analytics problem and utilizing proper methods to solve it. Participating in competitions like this COVID-19 Data Challenge is an effective way for students to gain real-life skills and complements the innovative design of our MSBA program.”
Vincent Chen ’20 sums up the experience: “We are proud that the LMU MSBA team had the opportunity to help people using what we’ve learned in school. We worked really hard on the project deliverables and hope that our work will impact the community and that this crisis will end soon.”