MBA team makes top three in the world in IBM competition

- June 30, 2016

Three Dalhousie MBA students will touch down in Las Vegas this October for the 2016 international Watson Analytics Global Competition, hosted by IBM at its largest annual conference.

And while Vegas may be all about luck for some, this team — Jordan Cromwell, Saleem Tawakol and Chenyu Yang — will be focused on the same elements that got them there: hard work, ingenuity and know-how.

The Rowe School of Business team joins only two other schools (Deakin University in Australia and the University of Ljubljana in Slovenia) as finalists in the competition after being selected from 125 total teams from around the word.

MBA students (left to right) Jordan Cromwell, Saleem Tawakol and Chenyu Yang.

“The entire experience feels like an accomplishment,” says Salem. “Representing Dalhousie's Rowe School of Business has been and always will be a pleasure. We put in our best effort and we are looking forward to meeting the other finalists and presenting our work in Vegas.”

“It’s very fulfilling to be selected as a finalist out of the 125 teams,” adds Jordan, “especially knowing we’ve put a considerably excessive amount of hours into our submission — in terms of the data mining process, developing the data sets needed to tell our story, and inferring the insights we’ve gained from Watson Analytics.”

Meeting the challenge

The challenge put before the students was to to apply the IBM Watson Analytics program to environmental issues, developing innovative solutions and predictive models. The Rowe students responded with “Carbon Dioxide — Hybrid and Electric Vehicles: The Future through the Eyes of the Present.”

The students came up with new insights by leveraging multiple data sources from hybrid and electric car sales numbers to efficiency ratings to Twitter feeds to historic commodity prices.

“These data sources were never combined before, so this was no small feat,” Michael Bliemel, professor in the Rowe School of Business and the students’ coach. “The data came from government and business systems. The team was able to show the relationships of different dimensions very nicely with interactive visualizations.”

The Rowe team’s project actually grew out of one of Dr. Bliemel’s courses, Business Analytics and Data Visualization. This course includes not only MBA students but also some from the School of Information Management’s Master of Library and Information Studies program, as well as those earning a Master of Electronic Commerce (a joint degree between Computer Science, Law and Management). Courses like this, says Dr. Bliemel, prepare students for careers on a new frontier.

“Analytics is changing how business decisions are made. Our courses teach students how to get data from various sources; they then learn how to transform and load this data into the next generation visualization and data mining tools to support data-driven decisions.” With the knowledge gained from these courses, students “straddle both business understanding and data understanding.”

World-class talent

Dr. Bliemel highlights the Rowe School’s work in data analytics over the past three years, aided by the school’s Rowe gift and by partnerships with IBM Canada and SAP.

“We’ve been working closely with leading business analytics providers, developing new curricula to demonstrate the power of self-serve business analytics,” he says. “We have established a leadership position in this area and have several faculty members who are now training faculty across the continent to teach advanced analytics to business students.”

With applications so relevant to the rapidly changing business world, it’s unsurprising that IBM is interested in the solutions teams like the Rowe’s bring to data and business analytics. Judges for the finals in October include IBM executives who are at the top of the analytics field.

"I feel excited about what we have accomplished as a team so far,” says Chenyu. "The finals are going to be a challenge and we are looking forward to sharing our findings. WAGC 2016 has given me the chance to show what I'm capable of analytically and it really brought out the best in the team."


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