SPHHS students take part in HackPVTA at UMass Amherst

February 10, 2016

Epidemiology graduate student Steele Valenzuela, at left, with other HackPVTA participants
(Photo by Ankita Shankhdhar)

Graduate students in the biostatistics program were among the organizers and participants at a hackathon on campus taking place February 5-7. Called HackPVTA, the event was a partnership between the Pioneer Valley Transit Authority (PVTA) and the Graduate Researchers interested in Data club (GRiD).

Over the course of the weekend eighty-nine participants worked with a year’s worth of PVTA bus location and ridership data, analyzing how the transit system works as well as possible areas of improvement. The group included representatives from both the biostatistics and epidemiology programs, as well as majors from across the UMass Amherst campus and Five Colleges.

“As a graduate student on a tight budget, I moved to Amherst with only a bicycle. Analyzing global epidemics is enticing and 'sexy', it really is, but analyzing transportation data is crucial, especially when the Five-College area utilizes public transportation every single day,” said Steele Valenzuela, an epidemiology graduate student.

Participants worked in teams as well as individually, and presented their findings to a panel of judges at the end of the event. Though all had statistical training from courses in their studies, the task was not without challenges.

“Many participants struggled with the extra dimension of visualizing this data as there were variables for longitude and latitude,” said Valenzuela.

“The data set contained over four million observations, which immensely slows down one's computer. Because the event is over a weekend, time was not on our side and we needed as much of it as possible,” he added.

The event generated coverage by the Daily Hampshire Gazette. Read their article here.