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By Bill Landauer

Two senior honors students pitted their math skills against some of the nation’s best at DataFest, an annual American Statistical Association competition.

Mathematics majors Josh Arfin ’17 and Benjamin Draves ’17 teamed with a student from Wesleyan University, placing in the top three at the early April event at Wesleyan, where teams of undergraduates gather to study numbers, parse them, and turn them into presentations.

The team of Arfin, Draves and Wesleyan’s Tiger Huang—called Unsupervised Leopards—took the award for Best Data Preparation.

Participants at each DataFest competition never know what data they’ll be analyzing before the event begins. In less than 48 hours, students are required to understand the meaning of whatever information they’re given, funnel it into a clean presentation, and produce an insightful analysis.

A posed photo of the students from 17 schools who participated in the DataFest competition

Students from the 17 schools participating in DataFest; photo by Will Barr (Wesleyan ’18)

The Lafayette team worked with customer information for a large business and built models to predict customer behavior. Unsupervised Leopards competed with 17 teams from Wesleyan, Yale, University of Connecticut, Trinity, and other colleges.

“Josh and Ben are fantastic young statisticians,” says Trent Gaugler, assistant professor of mathematics, “and both will be attending Ph.D. programs in statistics in the fall.”

Arfin felt good about the Lafayette team’s chances before the event.

“Having spent my life around students at top schools—I grew up next to Stanford—I knew that we were more than capable of competing with the students from Wesleyan and Yale,” he says. “Our ability to glean information about the customers allowed us to win our award, and those thought processes were honed in our independent study with Trent.”

Draves also credited Gaugler for the team’s success.

“He’s created a really healthy and collaborative learning environment that transcends any one course,” he says.

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