(From left:) Texas A&M Statistics graduate students Liang Liang, Jingnan Xue, Senmao Liu, Quan Cai and Yujin Wen recently took first place in the 2014 Capital One Modeling Competition, bringing home Texas A&M's second title in the three-year-old event that showcases data analysis and statistical modeling skills. (Credit: Capital One).


As another fall semester winds down on college campuses across the country, a group of graduate students in the Texas A&M University Department of Statistics once again has cause to celebrate after putting the wraps on nearly a month's worth of teamwork to take first place at the 2014 Capital One Modeling Competition.

For the second time in the past three years, a Texas A&M Statistics team -- Quan Cai, Liang Liang, Senmao Liu, Yujin Wen and Jingnan Xue -- took first place in the intense annual competition that puts individual student groups and their collective data analysis skills to the test in a select modeling-related area; in this case, search engine marketing (SEM) for first-position advertisements. Each team member received a cash prize of $1,000.

In addition, a second Texas A&M team advancing to the five-team final, held November 21 at Capital One's corporate headquarters in McLean, Va., finished third: James "JD" Peiskee, Indu Ramalingaiah, Xiao Wang and Bohai Zhang. All finalists had their travel expenses paid by Capital One, and each received a Capital One Modeling Competition award as a reward for being members of the top five teams.

"Both teams worked hard and had outstanding presentations," said Edward Jones, executive professor of statistics who recruited and mentored all Texas A&M team members along with Simon J. Sheather, professor of statistics and academic director for the Master's of Science in Analytics program. "We're so proud of our students."

Capital One provided each team with a dataset they could use to develop a statistical model capable of optimizing ad placements and bidding while also reducing cost. The students had three weeks to solve the complex problem. Each team then was judged on the quality of its approach to analyzing the data and how its predictions ultimately did.

"To have so little time and to see our students execute the model successfully -- and to take two of the three top spots is amazing," Jones said.

The competition is divided in two phases. In the first, which begins in early November, all invited teams submit their data-analysis models and earn scores based on the accuracy of their predictions. The top five teams with the best models advance to the second phase, the competition finals, which consists of a trip to Capital One's corporate headquarters, where each team spends the evening meeting with Capital One associates and then makes a final presentation the following morning before the Capital One executive judging panel featuring statisticians and marketing specialists.

Texas A&M has been invited to enter the prestigious competition every year since its inception in 2012. For three consecutive years, both Texas A&M teams have advanced to the finals.

"It's very unusual for a university to have two teams make it to the finals," Jones said. "It's even more unusual for the same university to have its two teams place among the top three. It speaks volumes about the quality of our students, Texas A&M University and the Department of Statistics as a whole."

While both Texas A&M teams earned positive feedback and attention from the judges for their organizational thinking and critical approaches to solving the problem, the overall experience was win enough for third-place team member JD Peiskee.

"It was definitely a great experience," Peiskee said. "The most valuable parts were working on a problem with real data, and getting to go and see Capital One Headquarters and actually understand and see what they find valuable and important in their industry.

"It was a challenging three weeks, but our dedication and commitment helped us to deliver a good presentation."

In addition to prizes from Capital One, both Texas A&M teams earned the Texas A&M Department of Statistics Excellence Award for their participation, which Jones says is based on a competitive selection process. This year, he received double the applications than previous years, eventually selecting only the top nine members for the honor of competing.

"The success of these teams reflects highly on the collaborative and applied statistics training that our students receive," said Valen E. Johnson, professor and head of Texas A&M Statistics. "It demonstrates the effectiveness of our graduate program in preparing our students for careers in statistics, and our teams' consistently outstanding performance in these competitions confirms our reputation as a premier graduate program."

Since 2007, the department has offered a master's of science in statistics online degree that ranks as the second-largest online program in the country and boasts a solid reputation as a national archetype for distance learning. In the first year of Capital One competition, Texas A&M fielded a third team comprised entirely of distance students. This year for the first time, one distance student, Yujin Wen, was selected to participate as a member of one of Texas A&M's traditional student teams.

"After our 2012 experience, I decided to try something different -- integrate the on-campus teams with distance students, allowing them to work directly with our on-campus students," Jones said. "I picked the best qualified and most eager distance student among our applicants, Yujin Wen.

"When possible, Yujin attended team meetings using WebEx. For the finals, he was selected to be the point person. He started and stopped the team's presentation. He enjoyed the experience and learned a great deal about Capital One and data mining."

Sheather, who along with Jones has co-mentored Texas A&M's teams the past three years, said the competition is designed to help Capital One identify and recruit top-talent statisticians. Because all Texas A&M statistics students are required to work on actual consulting projects prior to graduation, they come into the competition with an advantage: real-world preparation.

"It is an outstanding achievement by the two teams of Texas A&M students," Sheather said. "I am personally proud that for the second time in three years, our students have won the Capital One Modeling Competition. Congratulations, Aggies!"

For additional information about Texas A&M Statistics, visit http://www.stat.tamu.edu/.


Contact: Javier Aldape, (979) 845-2149 or jaldape@tamu.edu or Dr. Edward Jones, ejones@stat.tamu.edu
  • The 2014 Capital One Modeling Competition champions (from left: Senmao Liu, Jingnan Xue, Liang Liang, Yujin Wen and Quan Cai) pose with their mentor, Texas A&M executive professor of statistics Edward Jones (center). (Credit: Capital One)

  • A second Texas A&M took third place in the prestigious competition. Here, team members (from left) Indu Ramalingaiah, Bohai Zhang, Xiao Wang and James "JD" Peiskee wait to present their solution to the judges. (Credit: Edward Jones)

  • Texas A&M students, along with those from Southern Methodist University and Virginia Tech University, onboard the charter bus en route from the host hotel to the competition finals. As Dr. Jones describes it, "It was a chilly morning, 40 degrees, and everyone is wearing jackets. I like this picture because you can see some faces are nervous (Senmao and Jingnan, mid-left), while others (Xiao and Quan, mid-right) are just enjoying the experience. Quan is smiling with the 'V' sign. Yujin is directly behind Quan. The smiling young men at the front are from SMU." (Credit: Edward Jones)

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