A team of Statistics and Computational Modeling and Data Analytics (CMDA) students took first place in the second heat of the Department of Defense (DoD) Data Grand Prix.

The team’s work on their project titled, ”Manufacturing Stores and Material Shortages with the Defense Logistics Agency Aviation directorate” won the prize of $40,000 that was split equally between the students.

Sponsored by the Office of Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment and the Defense Logistics Agency, the Defense Data Grand Prix is a three heat, 18-month competition where faculty-led teams assist a government agency with an operational problem and provide a recommended solution. 

During the competition, students gain hands-on experience solving real-world problems and collaborate with government sponsors and corporate sponsors.

The student team led by Christian Lucero, Collegiate Assistant Professor in the Department of Statistics, includes: 

  • Adeline Guthrie, Ph.D student, statistics major
  •  Ryan Kaplan, senior CMDA and economics major
  •  Sam Rizzuto, senior, CMDA major
  •  Danielle Sebring, graduate student, data analytics and applied statistics major

“The most valuable thing about participating is the practical knowledge I’ve gained,” Sebring said. “Both of the projects I have worked on in the past two heats has forced me to learn new skills very quickly, requiring skills that have been directly beneficial to projects I’m working on at my job.” Sebring works in data analytics for John Deere, where she helps various departments with data science projects including data analysis, prediction models, and dashboard development. 

The Acquisition Innovation Research Center—a partnership of 22 U.S. universities—established the Defense Data Grand Prix prize competition to encourage and leverage innovation of faculty and students while engaging them on practical DoD acquisition problems. 

The Defense Data Grand Prix competition is organized by Stoney Trent, Principal Advisor for Research and Innovation in the National Security Institute. Trent calls the competition a deliberate campaign to increase awareness of Defense Acquisition System challenges, decisions, and processes, as well as a way to discover innovative solutions to improve national security.

“During the competition, students are provided with data and a well-defined problem, then they are expected to deliver findings without much contextual knowledge,” said Trent. “We designed the competition to bring academic expertise to real world problems.”

Lucero oversaw the students in the competition, but due to the student-focused nature of the challenges, he described his role similar to a coach’s. 

“These students are doing all of the real work and I'm merely giving them a bit of direction,” Lucero said. “Much like in basketball, they're the ones who actually have to run the ball up and down the court and take the shot, whereas I'm the one on the sidelines who helps them see the strategies and opportunities. The competition truly allows students to be hands-on.”

Heat 1 was structured to maximize interaction between sponsors and competitors while rewarding innovation and shareable findings. The Virginia Tech team for Heat 1 was named the Lunch Pail Defenders Team and took third place, winning $20,000 for their project titled, “Purchase Request Workload Management Tool with the Defense Logistics Agency Land and Maritime organization.” 

The Lunch Pail Defenders Team for Heat 1 included:

  • Preston Childress, senior, CMDA
  • Ryan Kaplan 
  • Sam Rizzuto 
  • Danielle Sebring

“When deciding on a team name, we thought about the large part of Virginia Tech Football’s historical identity: its hard-working, gritty, ‘Lunch Pail’ defense,” said Kaplan. “Since the Lunch Pail has been a defining symbol of Virginia Tech football since Bud Foster became the team’s defensive coordinator in 1995, we thought it would be fitting to include it in our team’s name.”

Registration is open for Heat 3 until September 9, 2022, and Lucero looks forward to competing.

“Heat 3 is all about analytics, which is one of the main strengths of our students,” Lucero said. “It's even in the title of one of our majors at Virginia Tech—Computational Modeling and Data Analytics—so I’m confident the team is equipped to do well.”

Contact: Lindsey Haugh