Inside USD

Students Mine Data for Silver in Global Event

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Two USD computer science students will return to school this fall with silver and some gold, too.

Cameron Askew (pictured, left) and John Lopez, both undergraduates, placed second in the 2011 Data Mining Cup, competing against 104 teams from 83 universities and more than 20 countries. The competition, sponsored by Prudsys, AG, a software firm based in Germany, was open to both undergraduate and graduate students. USD’s team will share a prize of 1,500 euros, approximately $2,150.

Data mining is a growing field of computer science that involves extracting and analyzing patterns from large data sets — often millions of records — by combining methods from statistics, artificial intelligence and database management. The field has many applications in business, finance, national security and other areas. In the main phase of the six-week competition, the teams were asked to sift through millions of records from a shopping web site and find an accurate way of recommending products to a user, based on products that he or she has already shown an interest in or purchased.

“Data mining is everywhere; it is really hard to find a field you cannot apply it to these days,” said Eric Jiang, USD professor of computer science and mathematics, who taught the class where Askew and Lopez entered the competition as their final research project.

USD’s team finished in the top 10 and was invited to a two-day conference in Leipzig, Germany where the winners were announced last week.

“I’m very proud of our students,” said Jiang. “They put in a lot of time and effort and have a bright future ahead of them.” Data mining is a difficult course that only a few institutions offer at the undergraduate level, he added.

Lopez, 20, who is from North Barrington, Ill., and Askew, 25, who is from Saratoga, Calif., said most of the teams they met consisted of five to 10 graduate or PhD students and that they were the youngest and smallest team, as well as the only team representing the United States to make the top 10.

“Attending the conference was our dream from the beginning,” said Lopez, who plans to graduate two years from now. “We tried our best and were successful and that is all either of of us could have asked for.” Askew will graduate next spring.

The pair are planning to make a presentation on their project to the computer science department this fall.

Jiang said the victory also “reflects well on the quality of our computer science program and should help us to promote  and attract even more students to major in computer science.” Google and Intel are just a few of the firms that have hired USD students in recent years, he said.

— Leslie Luna ‘07

Photo Credit: Dianne Bautista

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