The University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s 2022 MSBA Datathon charged teams of graduate students with creating advanced analytical models to produce reliable and actionable insights on a real business concern. To maximize the challenge and simulate actual business situations, the teams had to deliver their results in less than three days.
Hosted late in the fall semester by the Haslam College of Business’ MSBA Program, the datathon was held in collaboration with Clayton Homes, a Department of Business Analytics and Statistics (BAS) corporate partner. Clayton provided the business issue the teams worked on in the competition.
As the largest builder of manufactured housing and modular homes in the United States, Clayton strives to offer people affordable housing options, but that affordability goal varies from market to market because of different economic circumstances, among other factors. The MSBA Datathon teams’ task was analyzing and estimating housing affordability in different U.S. markets and delivering practical information that will help Clayton present more affordable housing options across the country.
Andy Eckerman, Clayton Homes’ vice president of information technology, said that whenever Clayton works with Haslam’s MSBA program on a challenge like the datathon, they are impressed by the creative and applicable insights the student teams deliver.
“These collaborative efforts help shape future business analytics leaders and give us an early look at the upcoming talent,” he said.
Drawing on real-world data collected from multiple sources, the students worked in teams using statistics, machine learning algorithms and visualization techniques to integrate, analyze and model the complex data and deliver results that support Clayton’s mission. In keeping with the experiential focus of Haslam’s analytics curriculum, Clayton provided industry perspectives from event kickoff to final team presentations, while BAS faculty members Chuanren Liu and Haileab Hilafu oversaw the challenge as faculty advisors.
“In the MSBA program, students learn how data powers business outcomes,” Hilafu said. “They also gain expertise to draw insight from large data sets and the communication skills to present their results in meaningful ways, and challenges like the datathon give them the chance to present their insights in a business setting.”
MSBA student Sydney Day appreciated hearing what solutions other teams arrived at to address the problem. “The datathon was a great learning opportunity,” Day said. “It was interesting seeing the different approaches to working with the data and what the other teams came up with for their final recommendations.”
MSBA student Jonathan Williams added, “Seeing the final presentation come together with our proposed solution was a rewarding experience and is an amazing resumé builder.”
Liu said the faculty was proud of the students’ enthusiasm and creativity in taking on the challenge. Being able to work with Clayton on an issue with multiple potential answers was an important boost to the students’ learning experience at Haslam.
Two winning teams were selected by BAS faculty members Robert Mee and Jordan Gill, co-director of the MSBA program, and Clayton representatives, including Eckerman; Haley Carson, data analytics and governance senior manager; Caleb Cagle, data analytics manager; and Meg Atchley, data analyst. These teams included Shijie Chen, Abdullah Salau, Daniel Riddick, Barrett Ray, Sneha Sinha, Michalea Shofner, Carrie Workman, Justin Ketterl, Kyrah Gardner and Westena Anderson.
Scott McNutt, business writer/publicist, email@example.com