Art student wins business school competition
Cassandra Reffner, Class of 2016, has a confession to make: She doesn’t know the difference between averages and medians, and she only understands Microsoft Excel’s most basic functions.
But that didn’t stop the graphic design student from winning the $2,500 grand prize at the second annual Temple Analytics Challenge. The monthlong competition, organized by the Institute for Business and Information Technology in the Fox School of Business, tasks students with making sense of data through visualizations and infographics.
The 20 finalist presentations for the monthlong competition took place in November in Alter Hall. Students presented their work before a panel of professional judges, including representatives from QVC, Campbell Soup Co. and RJMetrics.
The competition received 130 submissions from more than 300 participants and was open to students universitywide. It included 10 prizes totaling $10,000 provided by the Institute for Business and Information Technology and the Office of the Senior Vice Provost for Undergraduate Studies.
“A key goal of the challenge is to encourage students from different disciplines to build their data-analysis and communication skills, and to see how these skills apply to their careers,” said David Schuff, associate professor of management information systems in the Fox School of Business and organizer of the challenge.
He also noted a number of careers in which data-visualization skills are essential. “Students can leverage these assets in media jobs—like newspapers or online publications, which are very graphics-heavy—in libraries, the digital humanities, corporate communications, consulting and web design. There’s so much data around us, and these skills make students a lot more competitive in the job market.”
Reffner’s infographic demonstrates the residual impact felt by employees following the proposed relocation of Merck’s corporate headquarters. Judges noted that Reffner chose to display the raw number of employees whose commutes would be negatively affected by 30 or more minutes (while most other contestants presented percentages). She also offered what she called “prescriptions,” using a medicine-bottle design to provide Merck with alternatives such as incentivizing carpools or implementing break time for employees who make longer commutes.
Reffner said Schuff’s advice was instrumental in helping her craft the winning entry. “He told me to focus on the story—the story is huge for infographics. And he said that it was a good idea to come up with a solution. That’s something I think graphic designers have a leg up on because we work with clients. We’re not just creating art for ourselves.”
After her presentation before the judges, Reffner was struck by the importance of the contest. “One of the judges from Merck told me that my infographic helped Merck to identify a population that is affected and address it,” said Reffner.
“I felt like, wow, I really did do something. It isn’t just about being utilitarian, it’s about making a difference to somebody.”
- August Tarrier, CLA ’97, and Christopher Vito, SMC '07