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Data science students advance to final stage of major analytics competition

by Jennifer Johnson,

Kari Olson and Alexander Grey

Two Willamette University students advanced to the final stage of a highly competitive international marketing analytics competition. At stake? A $35,000 first prize. 

Kari Olson BA ’07, MS ’22 and Alexander Grey BA ’11, MS ’22 are finalists for the Adobe Analytics Challenge, an analytics-focused business case competition that involves using Adobe products to assess real-world data from organizations like Nike, Major League Baseball and T-Mobile. Both are currently earning their masters of science in data science

Of more than 4,000 team entries worldwide, only 20 teams advanced to semifinalist status. Now Olson and Grey are among the top six, competing against teams from Brigham Young University, the Indian Institute of Technology Kharagpur in India, the Université d'Angers in France, University of California and Yale University. 

The first place prize is $35,000, second place is $14,000 and third place is $6,000, with lesser amounts for the remaining spots. 

The Adobe challenge is part of Willamette’s master’s program. Built into the elective "Marketing Analytics," which is taught by Assistant Professor of Data Science and Marketing Jake Hoskins, the Adobe challenge involves an annually-rotating partner client and set of research questions. This year, the challenge involved the analysis of real data from the Shop Disney site, he said. 

Advising student teams in the annual fall competition is one of Hoskins' favorite experiences as a professor. He can work closely with students in more of a coaching and advising capacity to help provide them with the tools, confidence and guidance needed to compete successfully in the exciting and dynamic field of marketing analytics, he said. 

"The opportunity to integrate this experiential learning component in the coursework is a special one for students to take advantage of," he said. "They really get to find out firsthand what it's like to work in this field with real data made available by leading organizations." 

The challenge is an excellent way for students to be exposed to the high-demand fields of digital marketing and analytics. Select students will be given the opportunity to interview for internships and full-time positions at Adobe, according to the company.

Competing under the name “Bippity Boppity Booya,” Olson and Grey submitted what they believed was a focused and compelling presentation, drawing on the lessons from the data science program so far, said Olson. 

“Becoming a semifinalist was beyond where we thought we’d be,” she said. “Learning that we are now finalists is an incredible honor, and we feel exceptionally fortunate to be competing among such high caliber peers.” 

Learn more about data science at Willamette. 

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