Sandy Sun, MSSCM
In 2nd straight year, WashU Olin team wins major analytics competition

A three-member team of WashU business analytics students vanquished at least 49 other teams in the 2019 Teradata Data Challenge in Denver last month. Their victory was the second in consecutive years by an Olin team in the prestigious competition, which draws entries from around the globe.

“We didn’t really expect to win,” said Sandy Sun, MSSCA ’19. “It was exciting and amazing.”

Sandy Sun, MSSCM '19, delivering her team's presentation at the 2019 global Teradata analytics competition in Denver.
Sandy Sun, MSSCM ’19, delivering her team’s presentation at the 2019 global Teradata analytics competition in Denver.

The winning team included Sun, Jingxuan Zhou, MSCA ’19, and Peiyilin Shen, MSFTA ’19. They delivered their presentation—after months of work developing their solutions—on October 20 and learned of their victory the next day. The company—which provides database and analytics-related software, products, and services—received more than 50 submissions from around the world and chose 16 teams as finalists to compete in Denver, Colorado, at the Teradata Universe Conference.

In an email, Sun said the team’s challenge focused on a client, Hire Heroes, a nonprofit organization devoted to providing free support to veterans and military spouses as they transition to the civilian workforce.

“To better support its operation and services, the organization really needs donations to make a difference,” Sun wrote. “Hence, we chose ‘donor development’ as our topic, trying to provide some data-driven business recommendations to improve its current development.”

Zhou said the project, which the team had been working on since May, depended on their ability to clean and analyze more than 100,000 records spread across several data sets. The team’s faculty advisers were Olin professors Xiang Hui and Seethu Seetharaman, director of the Center for Analytics and Business Insights and faculty director of the specialized master’s in business analytics program.

The team organized the organization’s donor lifecycle into acquisition, retention and recurrence. Through their analysis, they were able to develop strategies they believed would support Hire Heroes to positively impact more heroes.

“The analytics are easy for us. It’s translating it into business insights that is difficulty,” Sun said. “That may be why we won. We needed to make sure our client knew what we were doing.”

A five-member team of customer analytics students won the same competition last year, defeating 44 teams in the global competition.

The 2019 team worked hard to present its ideas by telling a story so the audience would find it easy to understand. “After all, technical skills in data analysis, machine learning are always just tools to gain insights,” Sun said. “The ability to show results to untechnical people is equally important.”

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