Over the month-long winter break, MQM students took the opportunity to practice their data analytics skills during the Winter Data Competition. This optional experiential learning event allowed participants to dig deep into data, discover trends, and provide recommendations to Duke Alumni Association (DAA), the client for this project.

Formed in 1858, the mission of DAA is to create lifelong connections between alumni and Duke that benefit the university, its students, and fellow alumni. For this case competition, DAA asked for a series of recommendations for how it can more effectively engage with individuals who have been alumni for less than 10 years.

Participants first signed a non-disclosure agreement and then were provided with data on alumni event attendees, alumni events, and alumni biographic data, among others. Students had several weeks to use the data before submitting their work. During this time, they also participated in client calls, worked with faculty, and utilized the support of their classmates.

Five finalists competed during the final presentation:

  1. Joseph Pappachan, marketing track
  2. The team of Mei Zhang and Lingqi Nie, forensics track
  3. Xin Jin, strategy track
  4. Yin-Ta Pan, strategy track

The students did a great job giving engaging presentations that demonstrated their use of technical skills to develop regression models, ANOVA, and text mining. The finalists had varied solutions for increasing engagement including focusing on events on specific days of the week, targeting alumni with more than one Duke degree (“Double Dukies”), providing incentives for international alumni, and hosting school-specific events.

We were honored to have some prominent executives join our faculty as judges of the competition:

  1. Tony Scott, former U.S. Federal CIO
  2. Don Kierson, CEO of Data Blueprint
  3. Micah Dalton, president & COO of Data Blueprint
  4. Beverly Harris, senior director of DAA
  5. Salman Azhar, MQM faculty
  6. Ryan Burk, MQM faculty

judges, staff, and students join for a photo after the case competition

This event showcased the power of data and how students were able to connect what they were learning in the classroom to a client need. It was also fulfilling that the client for this project was part of the Duke family and a great example of collaboration that can occur within our university.

Ultimately, the team of Mei and Lingqi was awarded second place, and Xin was named the winner. Here’s what he had to say about the case competition experience:

“I used R and Tableau to help me visualize the data and identify patterns and abnormalities. For example, one of the surprising findings I made was that in-state alumni actually have lower engagement than alumni in other regions, leading me to suggest targeted programming and specific campaigns for North Carolina Duke alumni.

Not only did I work a lot with the data that was provided, but I set up client meetings to interview stakeholders and get a sense of their concerns and questions.

After spending about three weeks on the project, it came time for the four finalist teams to present. The panel of judges named me the winner of the competition, and as my prize, I received a basketball signed by Coach K and an interview for a full-time position with Data Blueprint—a truly interesting data management company.

Participating in the competition was an enjoyable experience for me, and I really felt like I was using the material learned in my strategy track coursework because I had to create a separate engagement strategy for each region. I also had awesome support from friends and classmates who weren’t even participating in the competition but still pitched in to help with analysis and the final presentation.

This experience was also valuable because it gave me a taste of using data to make recommendations to a client, which aligns with my career goals of consulting.”

A judge presenting Xin the prize for winning the case competition, a signed Coach K basketball