Amartya Sen (left), Ph.D. candidate in computer science, and Fred Stone, MBA student in business and information technology, conducted social media research for Hire Heroes USA and were chosen as one of seven finalists for Teradata University Network’s 2016 Data Challenge. Photo by Sam O'Keefe/Missouri S&T

Big data student team wins big

July 12, 2016 by Greg Katski

A team of Missouri S&T graduate students was recently recognized for its analysis of big data to help a nonprofit for military veterans determine the effectiveness of its social media marketing strategy.

The team of students was from Dr. Mike Hilgers’ business analytics and data science graduate course (IST-5420), and included Amartya Sen, Fred Stone, Darin Maner, Amy Briggs, Pranchi Brahmbhatt and Rahul Sakpal. The team conducted the social media research as a final project for the class, and submitted the project to Teradata University Network’s 2016 Data Challenge. Teradata, in turn, chose the team as one of seven finalists in the international competition. The championship will take place during the Teradata Partners Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, from Sept. 11-15. Sen and Stone will represent the Missouri S&T team at finals.

Hire Heroes USA, a career counseling service for transitioning military veterans, was the subject of the Teradata challenge. The open competition gave student teams at universities across the country data sets about the nonprofit’s social media channels and asked them to answer a series of questions.

Chief among those questions was whether Hire Heroes USA’s presence on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn improved the nonprofit’s reach, and, in turn, led to an increase in users and donations.

“Basically, yes, the social media platforms had an impact,” says Sen, a Ph.D. candidate in computer science. “As the dates progressed, we saw that there was an increase in the number of users that they were reaching and donations.”

Sen looked at the nonprofit’s analytics from Twitter and LinkedIn. Maner looked at its analytics from Facebook. Then, Sen checked for any correlation between an increase in users on social media and an increase in donations.

“I broke down the donation sets into three groups – 2006 to 2010, 2011 to 2014, and 2014 to 2016,” Sen says. “The reason I did that was because we didn’t have any social media information for 2006 to 2010; from 2011 to 2014 we just had Facebook; from 2014 until 2016, we had LinkedIn, Twitter and Facebook.”

The team also made more specific social media recommendations based on the data it analyzed. These recommendations included promoting celebrity and athletic endorsements on social media and posting on or around veteran-related holidays.

“Those would not be good days for them to take off because there was a lot of engagement on those days,” says Stone, an MBA student in the business and information technology department.

The team also recommended that the nonprofit shorten the text on its website based on the average amount of time users spend on the site. “At this point in time, it is text heavy, and the average duration that new users stay on their site is 0-10 seconds,” Sen says.

The business analytics and data science course is central to the business and information technology department’s business analytics and data science graduate certificate, which was recently ranked second in the nation in Value College’s Top 50 Best Value Online Big Data Graduate Programs of 2016.

Stone and Sen are looking forward to the championship in Atlanta.

“I’m kind of excited to see what everybody else came up with,” Stone, who prepared the final presentation for the project and will present the team’s findings at the conference, says.

“Learning from a bunch of people that are solely dedicated to this field (big data) will be fun,” adds Sen.

Sen, a native of India who received a scholarship from Teradata to pay for his conference registration fee and meals at the conference, is also excited to see more of the U.S.

“Because I haven’t been out of Rolla much, I saw this as my ticket to travel,” says Sen. “That’s what I kept telling Fred all the time – I want to go to Atlanta and I’m going to go to Atlanta; nobody’s stopping me.

“We got the notification and Fred said, ‘Your wish came true,’” adds Sen.

Sen, Stone and Maner put significant time into the project.

“As the deadline was nearing, I had to put almost 12 to 14 hours in for seven days straight,” Sen says. “We invested about 30 days between the three of us. It was a lot of pressure. At the end it felt like we were dried out in the desert, without water, just lying there.

“So when the notification came, it wasn’t a surprise, because we treated it as a competition and not just a class project,” Sen adds.

Sen and Stone agree that the experience was invaluable.

“The project has really opened my eyes because it helps you understand what you can really do with social media analytics and how useful that can be for a nonprofit, or anyone, for that matter,” says Stone, who is also a design engineer at Missouri S&T.

“Everybody I see around now in the industry is talking about big data analytics. This was my opportunity to have some first-hand experience with how this works,” Sen adds. “And, additionally, it was for a cause that will help people.

“If our work ends up benefitting (Hire Heroes USA) even a little bit, we will be happy.”