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Students Take Data Analytics Skills to ‘Next Level’

Manning School Trio Presents to HanesBrands Execs at Champion Analytics Case Competition

Amit Deokar, Sandra Richtermeyer, Modupe Ajala, Dana Lantion and Michael Wile at the competition Photo by courtesy
Manning School of Business students, center to right, Modupe Ajala, Dana Lantion and Michael Wile were joined at the Champion Analytics Case Competition by Assoc. Prof. Amit Deokar, left, and Dean Sandra Richtermeyer.

By Ed Brennen

Huddled around their laptops in the fourth-floor office of Assoc. Prof. Amit Deokar, Manning School of Business students Modupe Ajala, Michael Wile and Dana Lantion pored over their PowerPoint slides detailing their sales projections of Champion athleticwear.

In less than 48 hours, the business students would be in Winston-Salem, N.C., presenting their projections to executives from HanesBrands, the popular apparel brand’s parent company, as part of the inaugural Champion Analytics Case Competition at Elon University.

After analyzing almost a gigabyte of historical Champion sales data for the past month, the UML students were ready to put their business analytics skills to the test against 10 other schools from across the country, including Arizona State, Villanova and Wake Forest universities.

“This takes what we’ve learned in school to the next level,” says Wile, a business analytics graduate student from Lyndeborough, N.H. “Being able to work with real-world data that’s dirty and messy, and being able to clean it up and get it to this point, is really important to know how to do.”

Using the real-world data, teams were tasked with forecasting the future demand for 20 new, soon-to-be-launched Champion products, and analyzing whether the products would succeed or fail. 
Michael Wile and Modupe Ajala work on their presentation with Amit Deokar Photo by Ed Brennen
Graduate students Michael Wile and Modupe Ajala go over their presentation with Assoc. Prof. Amit Deokar before heading to the Champion Analytics Case Competition.

The UML team didn’t finish in the top three (Villanova won the $6,000 first-place prize, followed by East Tennessee State University and the College of William & Mary), but the students say the experience was well worth the weeks of effort.  

“We had to play with different models and algorithms — tools that I’ve never used before — and come up with visualization that can integrate this for business people,” says Ajala, a business analytics graduate student from Lagos, Nigeria. “These are critical skills to have in my field, and they’ll be useful to me beyond the competition.”

Lantion, the only undergraduate on the team, brought much-needed marketing and data visualization skills to the project. The senior business administration major from Everett, whose concentrations are in marketing and entrepreneurship, was recruited to join the team by her marketing analytics professor, Michael Obal.

“As a marketing student, I learned so much about applications of data analytics,” says Lantion, who has a “newfound respect” for the field. “Seeing the process and the results, and making conclusions based off of that, helps me in terms of my marketing skills.”

In addition to developing their R and Python programming language skills and working with the data visualization software Tableau, the students say they gained valuable project management experience.
Amit Deokar and students Modupe Ajala, Michael Wile and Dana Lantion pose for a photo Photo by Ed Brennen
Assoc. Prof. Amit Deokar poses with the data analytics team of, clockwise from top right, Michael Wile, Modupe Ajala and Dana Lantion at the Pulichino Tong Business Center.

“We were our own research team and led ourselves,” says Wile, who earned his bachelor’s degree in economics from the College of Fine Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences in 2019. “Prof. Deokar gave us the freedom to tackle the problem on our own.” 

Ajala, who earned her bachelor’s degree in international business from Eastern Mediterranean University in Turkey, also appreciated the chance to network with HanesBrands executives at the competition.

“We got very helpful feedback that will help us grow and improve our skills,” she says.

Deokar, who accompanied the students on the trip, says their biggest takeaway from the experience is that communicating data can be just as important as the analysis work itself. 

“They saw themselves and other teams that were fantastic at solving problems, but oftentimes what made the difference was who communicated it best,” says Deokar, who hopes to take Manning School teams to future competitions.

Manning School Dean Sandra Richtermeyer, whose office fully funded the cost of the students’ trip, also attended the competition. While at Elon, Richtermeyer gave two presentations independent of the competition — one on the future of accounting and another on women in higher education leadership. The UMass Lowell baseball team, which includes several business majors, happened to be playing a three-game series at Elon that same weekend; Richtermeyer dropped by one of the games to say hi to players and parents.

“We’re so proud of how these students represented the Manning School of Business and UMass Lowell,” Richtermeyer says. “The time and effort they put into this competition, beyond their regular studies, is truly impressive.”