Crunching data and having fun:
SMU and IBM host analytics camp

SMU and IBM host a number crunching camp for Townview students.

Number Crunch Camp

By Alyssa Eubank
SMU News

DALLAS (SMU) – Before spending a week at an SMU/IBM data analytics camp, high school senior Suhas Tatapudi had no idea how much he would enjoy crunching the numbers in large data sets.

Number Crunch Camp
SMU Ph.D. student Michael Fulmer describes a feature of the IBM SPSS Modeler with students Briana Johnson and Becky Bell.

“I was mainly interested in medicine,” he said.

Tatapudi was one of 20 students from DISD’s Townview Magnet Center chosen by their teachers to participate in an interactive four-day program, the IBM Summer Innovation Camp on Predictive Analytics, co-sponsored by the Richard B. Johnson Center for Economic Studies in SMU’s Dedman College.

A hybrid field, predictive analytics combines statistics, economics, mathematics and business techniques to analyze the large amounts of data analysts call “big data.” This data can include amount of traffic on company websites or frequency of repeat customers. Businesses then use the analyses to explore trends or probabilities and in turn make wise business decisions.

In a 2011 report by international consulting firm McKinsey and Company, researchers found that retailers making decisions based on big data could increase their operating profit margins by 60 percent. McKinsey’s research also predicted a shortage of 190,000 qualified data analysts by 2018.

“The work of skilled data and economics analysts can help create smarter government operations and enable businesses and individuals to make wiser decisions,” said Tom Fomby, professor of economics and director of the Richard B. Johnson Center for Economics in SMU’s Dedman College.

Number Crunch Camp
Professor Tom Fomby explains a key part of data analytics with students Murali Subramanian and Patrick Moore.

Fomby helped create SMU undergraduate and graduate programs in data analytics and is faculty adviser to two SMU national championship data mining teams.

When Fomby learned of IBM summer programs for high school students, he approached Kevin Gilhooly and Lisa Barnes of Dallas’ IBM Innovation Center with his idea for an analytics camp. Together, the three began to coordinate camp logistics and curriculum for IBM’s first data analytics camp for high school students.

“SMU was the perfect partner for this camp,” Gilhooly said. “Dr. Fomby's leadership in the analytics field and his familiarity with IBM predictive analytics software was an asset to planning and implementing the camp.”

IBM provided 20 laptop computers loaded with their data analytic software, the SPSS Modeler, primed for big data sets. SMU provided camp facilities, leadership and guest speakers. Staff members from both groups assisted student groups in solving problems ranging from predicting insurance fraud to predicting loan defaults. At the end of the camp, the students presented their analysis to their peers and IBM executives at Dallas’ IBM Innovation Center in Coppell, Texas.

“Students with these analytical skills will have an edge in the job market,” Fomby said.

“I attended this camp because I wanted to learn about statistics,” Tatapudi said. “I didn’t realize I could use this type of analysis in lots of ways, including the medical field.”

Number Crunch Camp
Townview students with SMU faculty and IBM staff in front of Dallas Hall.

# # #