A whirlwind of big data: Recapping DataFest 2024

By Katarina Fiorentino Klatzkow

At this year’s American Statistical Association DataFest at the University of Florida, competition was fierce. More than 75 bachelor’s and master’s students across various disciplines came together in a celebration of data, working around the clock to solve problems, brainstorm solutions and creatively present findings to impress a panel of judges. This is UF’s second year organizing the DataFest event, where students are challenged to find and share meaning in a large, rich, and complex dataset.

Hosted by the department of biostatistics at the UF College of Public Health and Health Professions and the department of statistics at the UF College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, ASA DataFest at UF bolsters a rich tradition of bringing together the data science community. While students are responsible for doing the work, industry professionals, faculty and graduate students serve as project mentors.


Founded at UCLA in 2011, the first DataFest comprised 30 students who worked for 48 intense hours to help fight crime through an analysis of arrest records provided by the Los Angeles Police Department. Now DataFest is officially sponsored by the American Statistical Association and hosted by prestigious universities around the world, including Duke University, Princeton, the University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth, and the University of North Carolina. Historically, students have even been recruited by companies for their efforts working on a high stakes team-oriented project that mimics real world problems in big data.

At this year’s event, participants represented 26 different academic programs from colleges across the university, including PHHP, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Warrington College of Business, and the Herbert Wertheim College of Engineering.

“DataFest was a big success this year,” said Steven Foti, Ph.D., an event organizer and a clinical assistant professor in the department of biostatistics. “What a whirlwind. Teams did a fantastic job of coming up with interesting questions to help guide their analyses. We were so impressed with the variety of analysis methods used, insights discovered and quality of presentations, even though competitors only had about 40 hours in total (if they didn’t sleep!) to create a very quick five-minute presentation of their highlights.”

After workshopping throughout the weekend, teams were tasked with developing a short presentation to close out the event. One team, the Cyber Bytes, entertained the panel of judges with a theatrical rendition of their findings, having created a script and skit to communicate their results.

At the end of the weekend, winners were determined across three categories: Best Overall, Best Visualization and Judge’s Choice. Six teams received awards, with three teams composed of undergraduate students and the other three teams of master’s students.

Awards were presented to the following teams:


  • Best Overall: DSI (Eric Chao, Matheus Kunzler Maldaner, Patrick Lehman, Raul Valle, Justin Witter)
  • Best Visualizations: Data NaviGATORS (Brian Cai, Rohan Rao, Patrick Gawienczuk, Tomas Rivera, Milan Solanki)
  • Judge’s Choice: R-madillos (Breanna Blackwood, Kejin Dong, Ajith Joseph, Jonathan Pipping, Zachary Pipping)


  • Best Overall: InfoMavens (Taruni Chopparapu, Eva Cook, Callisa Kwiat, Joyal Li, Griffin Pitts)
  • Best Visualizations: Analysis Aces (Zirui Cao, Xiaomei Hai, Romie-Laure Jean, Jacob Warchola, Junjie Wu)
  • Judge’s Choice: Team IS (Susie Chen, Yongshi Lin, Sarah Suo, Nancy Yang)

For Justin Witter, a fourth-year data science student from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and a member of team DSI (representing the UF Data Science and Informatics club), participating in DataFest was a pivotal moment of his collegiate career.

“Realizing the excitement behind data analysis and using that to fuel my passion as an incoming data scientist was one of my biggest takeaways from this event,” Witter said.


Yongshi Lin, Susie Chen, Sarah Suo and Nancy Yang, master’s students majoring in information systems and operations management and members of team IS, agree.

“Working with vast and intricate datasets gave us a glimpse into the sometimes-harsh reality of the real world. Along the way, we forged new connections, meeting people who became friends. It was a great competition experience,” they said.

We want to thank the multiple sponsors who helped to ensure the event’s success, said Foti, including UF Health, the Tampa Bay Rays, UF’s AI2 Center, PHHP, the Warrington College of Business, the Florida Chapter of the American Statistical Association, UF Health Cancer Center, UF’s Office of Research, JMP: Statistical Software and the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“As my graduation looms on the horizon, DataFest stands out as a pivotal experience in my academic career,” said Zirui Cao, a second-year Master of Information Systems and Operations Management student and a member of team Analysis Aces. “The spirit of DataFest — the laughter, the shared moments of discovery, and the camaraderie — leaves a lasting impression. I hope to see DataFest continue to thrive and inspire future participants just as it has inspired us.”

Read more StudenT Perspectives!

Jonathan Pipping, a fourth-year undergraduate student majoring in statistics and economics: “My favorite part about DataFest was working through the data with my team and coming up with approaches to process it and perform statistical inference Working through a real dataset (with all its imperfections and inconsistencies) is just as important as learning the theory for how to draw conclusions from it. Getting a taste of that applied element was really rewarding for us.”

Quinn Yuan, a second-year undergraduate student majoring in data science: “DataFest this weekend was truly incredible. My favorite part was the opportunity to collaborate with some of the brightest students in the field, working together on challenging datasets and competing with enthusiasm. This event provided an incredible platform to not only practice our skills in real-world scenarios but also to learn from each other’s approaches and strategies. Overall, DataFest was an amazing experience that reinforced my passion for data science, and I am looking forward to participating again next year.”

Matheus Kunzler Maldaner, a third-year undergraduate student majoring in data science and computer science: “DataFest gave me the chance to work with my good friends on a common goal as a team. We often have very different and busy schedules and this event allowed us to hang out and discuss our approaches towards solving the proposed challenge. Our team’s name, DSI, represents the student-led Data Science and Informatics organization on campus, which holds technical workshops, social gatherings, and professional development events for students interested in data science.”

Xiaomei Hai, a second-year master’s student majoring in information systems and operations management: “My favorite part about Data Fest was meeting new people and using my degree knowledge to solve real problems. Team communication and timeline schedule are very important. I love being a part of opportunities like DataFest!”