A screen grab shows the first place St. Thomas team of Himanshu Gamit and Jacob Noble from the SAS Symposium 2020 competition.

Graduate Programs in Software Students Win National Data Competition

St. Thomas Graduate Programs in Software students Himanshu Gamit and Jacob Noble were on Tuesday named the winners of the annual SAS Global Forum Student Symposium competition.

The highly competitive event draws dozens of teams from around the country and requires them to analyze a publicly available data set from the National Science Foundation and write a report. The top eight student teams and their faculty adviser – School of Engineering Professor Manjeet Rege, in this case – are invited to the symposium in Washington, D.C., (held online this year) to present their work.

"Doing this for many years you can spot students who are passionate; I saw passion in many of these teams I put together and these two that won absolutely demonstrate that passion," Rege said. "Wherever there was an issue throughout the entire process, they were creative and found a fix."

Gamit and Noble used various machine learning techniques to "explore, analyze and recommend similar proposal abstracts to aid the NSF or Awardee with the Merit Review Process," a crucial thing for a foundation that draws some 50,000 research funding applications each year.

"The topic area showed they went beyond what was in the classroom. You can see they had to do some work to get the data to be usable, and then used methods that aren’t usually in the classroom," said Jonie Shreve, a SAS distinguished professor at Louisiana State University and a judge in the competition. "What I’ve seen typically in academics, they didn’t come up with the clearest [data] clusters; the approach [Gamit and Noble] used was much better. That’s what makes a great analyst: 'This wasn’t working; let me figure out what other approaches I can use.'"

In creating their competition-winning study, Gamit and Noble drew on skills they've grown in St. Thomas' program.

"Data science coursework gave us a wide view of what the industry looks like and put us on the track where we could self-learn, and build knowledge, while working on any real-world problem," Gamit said. "Adviser Manjeet Rege has guided us well throughout the coursework and helped us initiate the project to learn more in the field of data science."

Rege reinforced the strong performance was an example of the kind of practical application skills St. Thomas data science students work to develop.

"In data science, you’re hired based on what you can apply," he added. "This is a validation of what you can apply and the skill set you develop here."