INFORMS News: Student Team Competition targets food production

(L-r): Aurelie Thiele presents the U.K.-based team of Peter Riley, Anna Scholes and Adam Green as the winner of the O.R. and Analytics Student Team Competition.

With the backdrop of a fast-growing global population and looming challenges to produce enough food to feed the world, a group of students from the University of Warwick, Nottingham University and Cardiff University in the United Kingdom developed a new method to produce better-performing soybean strains that could lead to a worldwide increase in food production. Their solution was developed as part of the first annual O.R. and Analytics Student Team Competition. The new competition, organized by INFORMS and sponsored this year by Syngenta, challenges students to apply their considerable talent to develop solutions to some of the biggest challenges facing our world today.

Eight teams comprised of graduate and undergraduate O.R. and analytics students from around the world competed in this year’s inaugural completion. Each team used the same data sets and software options to develop solutions to provide unique new analysis of data on soybean varieties bred for commercialization, and propose solutions for developing better performing plants.

“The O.R. and Analytics Student Team Competition not only shines a spotlight on the incredible young talent that is preparing to enter the field of O.R. and analytics, but provides these student teams the opportunity to hone the skill sets that will place them on the path to success as they embark on their careers,” said Melissa Moore, executive director of INFORMS. “From problem-solving and teamwork, to documenting and communicating their findings, the competition prepares students for the demands of a real-world workplace experience.”

“We are honored to have won the first O.R. and Analytics Student Team Competition,” said Peter Riley, student team leader. “Not only did we have the chance to test our skills against brilliant students from around the world, but we were able to do so in way that could help make a lasting difference for countless people. It makes for a truly rewarding and fulfilling experience, and we look forward to building on what we’ve learned and accomplished as we move forward in our studies and careers.”

The winning team was announced at the 2017 INFORMS Business Analytics Conference in Las Vegas, following a final oral presentation by each finalist team. Finalists were selected by a panel of industry and academic experts based on each teams’ use of the full analytics process, from framing the problem to methodology selection, data use, model building, and quantitative analysis.

“Syngenta is proud to support innovative thinking among emerging young leaders in analytics,” said Joseph Byrum, senior R&D strategic marketing executive with Syngenta and Syngenta lead for the Student Competition organizing committee. “This competition served as an excellent entry point for students interested in learning more about how analytics can help solve the challenges facing agriculture today.”

Other finalists in the 2017 competition included: Drexel University, National University of Singapore, Özyegn  University (Turkey), Université catholique de Louvain Team 1 (Belgium), Université catholique de Louvain Team 2 (Belgium), University of Cincinnati and University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.