Kraft Data Dive The winning Kraft Data Dive team from Krannert (left to right): Isa Watanabe, Rachel Crouch, Michelle Wang, Kristen Spina and Lukia Chen. (Photo provided)

Undergrad Underdogs

Krannert team bests MBAs at Kraft Data Dive

At the inaugural Kraft Data Dive Competition, Purdue’s team of five undergraduates figured they were a long shot to win.

The event, held at Kraft Food Group’s Chicago office April 18-19, pitted the undergraduate Purdue team against several teams of graduate students from Chicago-area business schools as well as other Big Ten universities. Rachel Crouch, a senior majoring in management information systems, says, “When we realized that we were competing against MBA students, we automatically assumed that we were underdogs.”

Despite the apparent long odds, the cleverly named "Kranalysts" walked away with the judges’ unanimous decision — and a check for $5,000.

Kraft gave each team a huge amount of proprietary data and a real-world business problem to solve in just 23 hours, culminating in a 10-minute presentation to a panel of judges. Teams were provided with technical support and industry software to use for their research, including RStudio, SAP Predictive Analytics, Tableau, SPSS and more.

Still, the Kranalysts did encounter difficulties, uncovering an error in their network connection to Kraft’s consumer databases that set them back several hours during the crucial early morning push toward the 10 a.m. finish. “I think we would all agree that our win can be attributed to perseverance and teamwork,” Crouch says, adding that the team received continuous encouragement from its Kraft team host and Purdue alum Michael Halfman.

The win can be attributed also to a combination of students with diverse interests and skills. “Each member of our team had a different academic path and each one provided a unique insight that went toward our final presentation,” says Isa Watanabe (BS ’15, accounting and management information systems). "Data dives are a great opportunity for students in different majors to work together to generate real business insights.”

In addition to Crouch and Watanabe, the team was composed of Lukia Chen (BS ’15, accounting and management information systems), Michelle Wang (BS ’15, management and finance) and Kristen Spina (BS ’15, management and marketing). The Kranalysts divided their labor overnight. Crouch and Watanabe crunched numbers and queried data while Chen, Wang and Spina prepared the analysis and PowerPoint presentation.

Chen believes their strategy wouldn’t have paid off without team chemistry. “We trusted our teammates, we believed in teamwork and we kept persisting and working hard until the last minute of competition,” she says.

That trust was fostered when the students took Electronic Commerce and Information Strategies (MGMT48800), taught by Prof. Mohammad Rahman. They credit their success to experience with real-world data analytics problems covered in the course. “A judge approached us after the announcement and commended our mathematical approach,” Crouch says.

Rahman says he designed the course to be “cutting-edge and practically oriented” and plans to offer it regularly. He picked the quintet for the competition based on their active participation and performance in his course and their background and prior academic records.

Crouch, who will graduate in May 2016, says her experience in the competition gave her an edge during her summer internship. “My manager was impressed with our win and she even arranged for me to meet with a data analytics professional at Boeing in Seattle,” she says.