A team of Virginia Tech students placed first in the second heat of the Defense Data Grand Prix, a competition designed to tackle some of the most difficult data science issues faced within our government today.

The team of Department of Statistics graduate students Adeline Guthrie and Danielle Sebring, recent computational modeling and data analysis (CMDA) graduate Sam Rizzuto, and current CMDA student Ryan Kaplan — tabbed Defense: Top Priority — won a $40,000 prize with a project titled “Manufacturing Stores and Materiel Shortages.”

The Defense Data Grand Prix was established by the Acquisition Innovation Research Center — a partnership of 22 U.S. universities, including Virginia Tech — and utilizes data and problems provided by agencies within the U.S. Department of Defense. It is a campaign to increase awareness of Defense Acquisition System challenges, decisions, and processes.

Held over a span of 18 months, the competition consists of three heats, each with a different focus and  designed to encourage collaboration among academic teams, government sponsors, and corporate sponsors as well as reward innovation and shareable findings.

The second heat of the Grand Prix, considered the access phase of the competition, tasked competitors with demonstrating the scalable access and sharing of real, transformed, or synthetic defense acquisition data.

In its winning project, the Virginia Tech team, led by Assistant Professor Christian Lucero of the Department of Statistics, worked with the Defense Logistics Agency Aviation directorate. Team members developed a model that could accurately predict materiel shortages and offered prescriptive actions that could be incorporated into the Defense Logistics Agency standard operating procedures.

The first heat, held in fall 2021, focused on planning, with teams submitting white papers to propose data science objectives and approaches to creating data access and analytics methods.

Virginia Tech’s team, which included recent CMDA graduate Preston Childress along with Sebring, Rizzuto, and Kaplan, placed third in the first heat to earn a $20,000 prize. That team — named The Lunch Pail Defenders — worked with the Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime organization on the Purchase Request Workload Management Tool.

According to Lucero, data competitions such as the Grand Prix are invaluable experiential learning tools.

“One of the things I really like about data competitions in general is that it promotes experiential learning, and I find that students do learn quite a lot from such events,” said Lucero. “[Students] are really quite motivated by actual questions with real data. When [the problems are] open-ended, the creativity comes out. We get to think about, ‘OK, what’s out there? What can I teach myself? What methods are even applicable to this data?’

“When it comes to these data competitions, the sky is the limit,” Lucero said.

Virginia Tech will have another chance to compete this fall with the third and final heat of the Defense Data Grand Prix. Geared toward analysis and focusing more on statistical and machine-learning methods, competitors will apply advanced analytics and visualize findings from defense acquisition data.

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