News

Hanover Image Analytics Challenge Displays the Power of Interdisciplinary Teams

On Wednesday, November 20th, OPIM Innovate hosted the Hanover Image Analytics Challenge in partnership with Hanover Insurance Group. There, ten teams competed for the opportunity to implement their solutions in a real-world business setting through a spring semester externship. Cash prizes were split between four different thresholds, each having their own requirements. While the lowest threshold provided each participant with a baseline of $100, the highest threshold awarded each team member with $500 and an opportunity to work with Hanover. The objective of the challenge was to have participants make use of a dataset including details on current customer properties and prospective properties to be insured by Hanover.

The difference between this challenge and other case competitions is that it implored students to search for interdisciplinary team members. Rather than having all participants be business majors or intra-major, there were a multitude of participants with little to no business or technical knowledge. As explained by Rob Brewer, Middle Market Vice President and Chief Underwriting Officer at Hanover, the required roles self-assigned by each team member–business analyst, marketing specialist, developer, and data analyst–reflected Hanover’s real-world teams. “Our employees seldom work by themselves,” Brewer said. “They’re always working together across roles.” 

Through the Hanover Challenge, students learned the benefits of cross-boundary teaming. Competitors from OP I AM, one of the Threshold 3 teams recognized during the Awards Dinner following the challenge, made this clear during the Q&A portion of their presentation. When asked what was most challenging while working through their solution, which included the use of data science methodologies to detect and assess certain property holdings, Mariela Kridzelis (MIS & English ‘19), the team’s marketing specialist, commented on the benefits of an interdisciplinary team. “I wouldn’t necessarily go down the challenge route,” she said. “I thought working with my team members was extremely enlightening. We all learned something from each other.” 

Vaughn Nangle, the data analyst of another Tier 3 group entitled Alpha Analytics, also commented on team dynamics. “Throughout the Challenge, my team members and I collaborated so well that we thought we were working beyond our roles. By the very end of the Challenge when we finally presented our solution, that’s when we realized we were actually performing our roles the entire time. In working together, we shared skillsets and expanded each other’s knowledge–it just goes to show how beneficial teams like these are.” The solution Alpha Analytics presented to the judges was a variable heat map of various insurance risk factors. 

We’d like to extend a warm thank you to the Hanover Insurance Group and all faculty and staff that helped with the Hanover Image Analytics Challenge. We’d also like to thank the ten remaining teams of the Image Analytics Challenge for presenting their amazing solutions! 

Please scroll through the slide deck below for team photos.

 

Student Spotlight: Andrew Eastman

Raised in small-town East Granby, CT, Andrew Eastman (MIS ‘20) has always had a passion for technology. In addition to high-school sports and extracurriculars, his grade-school hobbies included building computers and modifying video games with his friends. While working with technology influenced his upbringing, using technology applications to solve business problems or to create unique experiences for others was, and continues to be, his primary motivator. After taking multiple high-school-level business classes and enjoying the experience, he knew he wanted to pursue a degree in business. Touring UConn and learning more about the Management Information Systems (MIS) major during his senior year, he realized the MIS program was a perfect fit for him. “It combined my interests in business and technology,” he said. “And since I graduated in a class of sixty-or-so kids, I was excited about UConn’s size and diversity.”

Once at UConn, Andrew sought after every possible way to pursue his interests and develop his professional skills. He saw every opportunity as a way to improve, learn, and mature into a more complete adult. This led him to join many different business organizations, including the Information Management Association (IMA). He found the IMA to be a great way to meet other technology-oriented students, learn more about the IT field, and network with professionals. He also participated in many case competitions including the PwC Case Competition, the MIS Case Competition, and, more recently, the Hanover Image Analytics Challenge. “I definitely recommend doing case comps,” he said. “They’re fun and you usually get to work on a real-world problem, so it’s a great way to get some experience under your belt.”

During his junior year, Andrew became the treasurer of the IMA. The purpose of IMA, as briefly mentioned above, is to bridge the gap between UConn students and IT opportunities, regardless of their major. “As treasurer, you manage all the financials of the organization, but it’s not only about doing my job. It’s also about meeting new students, professionals and building connections,” he explained. When asked what being part of the IMA e-board taught him, he answered the following: “The role taught me how to coordinate efforts with many different people, organizations, and to work as a team with other E-board members. It also helped me improve my public speaking and presentation skills.” 

This past summer, Andrew interned at MassMutual as an IT business analyst. As part of his role and summer project, he assisted in the development of a large database. His objectives were to convert three of the company’s database systems into one master database. He also had to update the new database from its outdated version. Andrew conveyed the needs of his specific team with help from the functional knowledge he acquired. His work also had many project management elements, including the use of scrum and agile methodologies within the company. 

Now that Andrew is finishing up his last two semesters of college, he feels prepared for life after undergrad. “MIS definitely helped me find out what I wanted to do,” he said. “The fact that there are so many resources provided is huge.” Specific to the Operations and Information Management department, he’d like to shout out Jon Moore: “He’s a great resource. He can help you with anything MIS related, whether it be course selection, general advice, or finding an internship or job.”

For students currently interested in MIS or beginning to pursue the major, Andrew offers this advice: “Definitely get involved with MIS events as soon as possible. The major offers incredible opportunities, and if you take them you’ll definitely have a leg up on the competition. Utilize the resources in the Gladstein Lab [to teach yourself emerging technologies] and participate in IMA functions to hear about potential employment opportunities. Don’t be afraid to step out of your comfort zone. Experience is extremely valuable.”

UCAELI Students Learn Design Thinking During Innovate Workshop

On Thursday, November 14th, OPIM Innovate hosted a Design Thinking workshop in partnership with the UConn American English Language Institute (UCAELI). During this workshop, students participating in the College Preparatory Experience program learned the first three steps of design thinking: define, empathize, and ideate. These steps implore students to define business objectives, understand the needs of their audience, and brainstorm potential ideas for a business solution. Tara Watrous, Innovate’s project coordinator, assisted students throughout the design thinking process by providing an overview of each step. She then provided the following prompt for students to answer in groups: “How can technology be utilized to enhance learning English as a second language?”

Throughout the group portion of the workshop, participating students were able to work with Innovate Lab specialists for insight. As the prompt allowed for many open-ended ideas, each group had their own unique solution at the culmination of the workshop. Ideas included:

  • a chatbot
  • a virtual reality application where students can immerse themselves in English-speaking environments
  • an application for students of different native languages to communicate and practice other tongues
  • an augmented reality application that quizzes students on their English by displaying images that represent different dictionary words
  • mixed-reality glasses language learners can wear to learn English through environment narration

“The combination of our students’ innovative minds and emerging technology create immense potential for solving problems,” Watrous commented after the event. “Each student group came up with their own unique and creative idea for English-language learning. We hope to see them in our space again to start prototyping!”

 

 

OPIM Innovate is Hiring! Communications and Lab Specialist Positions Available!

OPIM Innovate is currently seeking to fill three new student lab specialist positions and one communications specialist position for the spring of 2019.

As a student lab specialist, student workers must test and give presentations on the emerging technologies OPIM Innovate has to offer. In addition, lab specialists must assist students with various lab projects. Great communication and customer service skills are a must. Experience with virtual/augmented reality, 3D printing/modeling, IoT/data analytics, drones/wearable tech, A.I./Blockchain is also preferred, but not required.

The communications specialist must have the flexibility to attend events throughout the semester, good interpersonal and writing skills, and a willingness to learn about the emerging technologies the Lab has to offer. In addition, they must be able to work independently; interview students, professionals, and staff; and assist other Lab employees when necessary.

The student lab specialist and communication specialist positions are Class III jobs and offer great internship experience for students interested in learning about up-and-coming technologies. For more information on the student lab specialist position, please click here to be directed to the job listing on UConn JobX. For more information on the student communications specialist positions, please click here to be directed to the job listing on UConn JobX.

For any additional questions, please contact MIS Program Director Jonathan Moore at jonathan.a.moore@uconn.edu.

We appreciate your interest and are excited to see your applications!

Students Develop Data Visualization Skills at Hanover Challenge Workshop

On Thursday, November 7th, Hanover Insurance and OPIM Innovate co-sponsored a Data Visualization workshop. Run by Olivia Rossetti (Management ‘15), Senior Data Integrity Specialist at Travelers and UConn alum, students were introduced to data visualization fundamentals and the Tableau software. 

Rossetti’s framework for introducing students to data visualization began with a general overview of the topic. After defining the purposes of both data and visualization separately, she presented students with the three following definitions: 

In order to visualize data, students had to understand the four key components of data visualization: visual cues, the coordinate system, scale, and context. Whereas visual cues use elements such as shape, size, and color to portray certain values, the coordinate system, scale, and context of a visualization assign additional meaning to those values. Take a bar chart, for example. The length of each bar indicates a numeric value, and color can be used to distinguish between categories. Meanwhile, the chart’s coordinate system can help users determine specific values, and any added labeling, annotations, and titles can help users identify the context of the data being shown. 

Of course, with any chart or visualization, there is always an intended purpose and audience in mind. For data visualization, artists can compare between data points, display parts of a whole, help users identify relationships, or even show the distribution of a dataset. What to do, however, depends on the needs of the audience, including what they may not know and what they could potentially get out of a certain visualization. For example, if someone wants to know the types of users that log onto a website, it wouldn’t be productive to create a visualization showing a distribution of total logins throughout the week. 

After Rossetti walked attendees through the foundational knowledge needed to understand data visualization, she proceeded with the hands-on component of the workshop–working with Tableau. Everyone gained access to the software through the School of Business virtual machine, and exercises were completed in real-time. One of the many visualizations made consisted of using a provided superstore dataset to display sales by product category, customer segment, and market:

Another, more intuitive visualization, consisted of portraying global sales and profit. Size was used to indicate the degree of success for sales. Color was used to indicate profit at a gain or loss:

After the workshop, I approached Rossetti regarding her motivations for returning to UConn, not only as a guest lecturer, but also as an adjunct faculty member. Outside of this Data Visualization workshop, she teaches OPIM 3804: Data Visualization, open to all Management Information Systems (MIS) students and Data Analytics minors. “When I was a student at UConn,” she said. “I wasn’t sure in which direction I wanted to go in. I started as a Management major, finished all of my requirements, and then heard about the certificate in OPIM [the Data Analytics minor]. That led me into the world of analytics, a path I never imagined. Because I had that opportunity as a student, I was exposed to classes that were taught by adjunct faculty. There, I was able to see what they were doing in the real world, and what tools they were using. I knew from the moment I met one of my teachers [adjunct Marshall Dougherty], that I wanted to provide the same experience down the road–I wanted to make an impact.”

We thank Olivia for her contribution to the Hanover Challenge and to the MIS curriculum. We also extend a warm thank you to everyone who attended the Data Visualization workshop!

Students Introduced to Predictive Analytics During Hanover Workshop

On Thursday, October 31st, Hanover Insurance and OPIM Innovate co-sponsored a Predictive Analytics workshop. Run by alumni and Travelers Data Integrity Specialist Aleya Hafez (Mathematics & Statistics‘18), students were introduced to different data modeling approaches. 

Hafez’s lecture followed the usual data modeling framework–cleaning data with hypotheses in mind, splitting data, and finally creating predictive models. This, of course, came with the need to explain what each segment entailed, information she generously opened with. In explaining the data cleaning process, she informed students of potential outliers, duplicate records, data input errors, or any other abnormal or extraneous data that may skew test results. With regard to splitting the data, she taught students the difference between a training dataset and a test (or validation) dataset. In brief, training datasets and test datasets are samples taken from the whole; training datasets are used to build initial models, whereas test datasets are there to verify results. As for creating models, Hafez specified the process to further increase understanding.

To provide students with a conceptual guide of data modeling, Hafez broke down the process into the following steps:

From these steps, she then explained separate modeling types, such as linear regression, logistic regression, and decision trees. Whereas linear regression predicts specific numeric values, logistic regression and decision trees predict the probability of something being true or not. For example, a model using logistic regression will be able to predict whether an email is spam or not. A decision tree, on the other hand, brings these probabilities into finer and finer levels depending on the number of nodes, or categories, added (see below):

Decision trees may also be used to assess model outcomes against actual data. This helps data scientists select the best models to use. 

To end the lecture, Hafez used the concepts she described to create predictive models in R. This gave students the chance to see data modeling in action, and provided them with enough of a preview to ask clarifying questions. 

When Hafez was asked why she volunteered her time to share her knowledge on predictive analytics with UConn students, she said the following: “I’ve always enjoyed helping other people, and it excites me to know that someone other than me is interested in statistics. It’s great to see that the UConn School of Business is putting more of an emphasis on predictive analytics, so I’m happy to give my take!”

We thank Hafez for her time and everyone who attended the Predictive Analytics workshop!

 

Lab Specialists Get Students Excited About Tech at Innovation Expo

On Monday, October 21st, UConn held its annual Experience Innovation Expo in the Student Union Ballroom. There, OPIM Innovate Lab Specialists Eli Udler (English & CS ’20) and Vaughn Nangle (Physics ’20) introduced students to emerging technologies and agricultural solutions, such as virtual reality (VR) headsets and hydroponics. The VR headsets, especially, were a hit due to the photorealistic graphics of the Oculus Go. Students were immersed in titles such as Jurrasic World VRSE, where they could watch dinosaurs thrive in 3D.

Udler, a wearable technology expert, also networked with the Puppet Arts department during the Innovation Expo. Having experienced working on wearable technology projects before, he believes UConn Puppetry can benefit from technology integrations. This may vary from projects including the Mindwave, a device that can read brain patterns, to Adafruit sensors that can detect sound and movement. “I’m excited to help introduce Innovate to different UConn departments,” said Udler. “Working with puppets will be a fun challenge.”

Both lab specialists had a great time demoing the latest and greatest technologies to those curious enough to stop by. “It was cool to see people so interested in what we do,” Nangle said. “Now I just wonder what they’ll do with our resources.”

We thank everyone who visited our booth during the Experience Innovation Expo and to the Werth Institute for putting this event together!

Innovate Gets Exposure Through Research Connections Event

On Wednesday, October 16th, OPIM Innovate was invited to share its technologies at the annual Research Connections event. There, at Werth Tower, the initiative gained traction by making itself known to early-career undergraduates who had not yet been exposed to the lab. The purpose of Research Connections is to help UConn students find potential research opportunities and give exposure to projects that usually span across campus. “We thought it would be a great idea to showcase,” said Innovate Lab Manager Robert McClardy Jr. (CS ’20). “We want to help students explore their ideas and we have the resources to do it.”

During the Research Connections event, McClardy and other OPIM Innovate lab specialists networked with interested attendees. Many students from the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences and the School of Engineering stopped by the booth. The exchange proved to both parties how universal the initiative can be–everyone has the potential to innovate. “We connected with quite a few students and hopefully they’ll come check us out sometime,” said McClardy. These students interacted with the technology and end-products on display–namely virtual reality headsets, drones, and 3D prints. “To encourage brainstorming, we told them about some of the projects we’ve done in the past,” added the lab manager. “Everything starts with an idea.”

We thank everyone who stopped by our booth at the Research Connections event! For more information on OPIM Innovate, stop by our website!

 

 

 

Students Learn Agile Applications in Hanover Challenge Workshop

On Friday, October 18th, Hanover Insurance and OPIM Innovate co-sponsored a guest lecture on Agile Data Analytics. Run by alumni Matias Niño, an agility and project management professional from REI Systems, students were introduced to agile and its applications regarding software development.

As explained by Niño throughout the lecture, “Software was the first knowledge work that came about” and could not be sustained by previous project management methods. The waterfall model, for example, was too rigid to handle the rapid advancement of technology; projects often reached obsolescence before they were even completed, and only one end product could be produced to provide feedback. With agile, however, multiple work packages are completed in an iterative process responsive to change. This allows project teams to change their trajectory if the business or supporting systems call for it.

Other than the convenience of flexibility, Niño also praised agile’s ability to decentralize project processes. “When you put decision making as close to the work as possible, you get better results,” he said. To demonstrate this, he had the attending students participate in an activity. Inspired by the human knot icebreaker, students were asked to split into teams and tangle themselves together. The difference between this activity and the regular exercise, however, was the source of direction in the first round. During the first round, a “project manager” from each team gave orders; both were unsuccessful at untangling their teams before time was up. Yet, when the teams were left to their own devices, both completed their objective in seconds. “It was better to have people working from the inside,” said Rose Zimmerman (MIS ’20). “Since they were in it, they knew what was going on.”

Niño, being a Management Information Systems alum based out of Virginia, traveled back to Connecticut to volunteer his time and guest lecture. When asked why he pursued this opportunity, he stated the following: “I really did this because, thinking back to when I was here at UConn, the professionals that came back to give their guidance and share their experiences were really inspiring to me. They helped me with life-changing decisions. After I graduated, I wanted to do the same.”

We thank Matias Niño for guest-lecturing and everyone for attending the Agile Data Analytics workshop. 

Interested in attending one of our upcoming Hanover Challenge workshops? Here’s the schedule.

 

 

 

MIS Case Competition Celebrates Another Successful Round

On Friday, October 4th, the Operations and Information Management department hosted its annual MIS Case Competition. Focused on exposing UConn students to real business problems, the competition asked participants to work together in order to create and defend potential solutions. This year, the case surrounded Connecticut Bank, a fictional financial institution attempting to enhance its security measures to further bypass the consequences of identity fraud. Biometric technology was the main focal point across teams–from fingerprint scanners on credit cards to voice authentication for mobile banking applications and call centers.

Throughout the day, each team expressed their business solutions to a panel of judges in the form of a 15-minute presentation. Each presentation was followed with 10 minutes of Q&A, where judges tested teams on their ability to think on their feet. “We asked [students] difficult questions, not because we wanted to give [them] a hard time, but so we could expose [them] to [an additional challenge],” said judge Craig Calvert. The best teams were those who evidently rehearsed their slides and supported each others’ answers when appropriate.

During the Awards Dinner, which followed the competition, students were thanked for their participation. While not all teams walked away with a cash prize (the top award being $500 per person), they each had the courage to tackle the challenge. All teams were given one week to research and design their slides on a topic that is still emerging and, to an extent, theoretical. They had to crunch numbers, scale technology, and generally think for both the bank and the consumer.

Not all winning teams were well acquainted with case competitions. In fact, the first-place team was composed of two first-time competitors: Julia Moody (MIS ’21) and Dean Perkins (Management ’20). Named The Buzzbees, both used their trust in each other and honest feedback to pave their way to victory. “I gained confidence as we went through the process of practicing,” said Julia. “I also learned that having team members with different perspectives can really make a difference in a project.” After Dean and Julia were awarded their first-place certificates, Dean had this to add regarding his experience: “I feel a little bit surprised, but I knew we put the effort in. Our greatest ally was planning and…practicing. We picked on each other and looked for areas of improvement. By the time we got to [the competition], we were relatively calm.” Dean and Julia had a third member of their team who had to drop out due to health reasons, further emphasizing the strength of proactive teamwork.

We would like to extend a warm thank you to those faculty members who volunteered their time to help make the MIS Case Competition a reality.

Interested in the MIS Case Competition? Stay tuned for the next round coming up in Fall 2020.