Trojan Family for the Win

First-year business analytic students take second-place in a prestigious case competition with some good advice from a program alumnus

November 24, 2020

When Christopher “Kai” Painton, Yilun Sun and Ruiwen Wang found themselves in the final round of the annual Humana-Mays Health Care Analytics case competition, the first person they called was Abbass Sharif, the academic director for USC Marshall’s Master’s of Science in Business Analytics program.

The first person Sharif called was program alumnus David Sung.

“It’s always the first impulse when students are looking for guidance in the Trojan family,” said Sharif, an associate professor of clinical data sciences and operations. “You reach out to those who went before you.”

Sung, now a senior data scientist with LinkedIn, placed second and first, respectively, in the same competition in 2017 and 2018. He was only too happy to help.

“The team was already in the final round,” he said. “They had the data. They’d done all the heavy lifting. All I did was give them some suggestions about the presentation.”

By the Numbers

Hosted by Texas A&M University’s Mays Business School, the fourth-annual Humana-Mays Health Care Analytics Case Competition was held virtually this year. More than 700 graduate-level students representing more than 70 universities in the U.S. registered for the competition to compete for more than $70K in total prizes.

Their efforts placed them second, just behind Wharton, but in front of UCLA Anderson. 

The student teams were asked to create a model to predict which Medicare patients might be having the most challenges with transportation issues, as part of a larger study into social determinants about who can access health care.

Teams were winnowed down in the first two rounds based on their data models.

Painton, Sun and Wang are all first-year graduate students.  They brought different backgrounds to the team. (Painton studied communications and analytics as an undergraduate.) Coincidentally, they all attended the University of Washington as undergraduates.

“We worked well together,” said Painton. “And we had complimentary skill sets outside of data analytics.”

The Master’s of Science in Business Analytics is distinct in that it focuses on data analytics in business settings. This mindset gave the Marshall team an edge.

“When we bumped up against the data, we pivoted to the business recommendations,” said Painton.

And that’s where Sung had some advice for them.

“You are all data analysts, but the judges from Humana may not be,” Sung told the team. “Make sure you don’t launch into technical jargon right away or you’ll lose your audience.”

He urged them to identify the story within the data and tell it.

With their backgrounds in communications, marketing and economics, the team knew how to do that.  “We benefitted from the noisy data,” said Painton.

Their efforts placed them second, just behind Wharton, but in front of UCLA Anderson.  They won $20,000.

“We are very proud of our students,” said Sharif. “This is an impressive accomplishment.”

“It was a great experience, and really put our analytics skills to the test in a real-world setting,” said Painton. “I’m very grateful for all of the support—it shows us all the power of the Trojan Family network.”