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Darla Moore School of Business

  • Images of dogs from Final Victory Animal Rescue

Making a difference using data and analytics

Moore School and USC students create solutions for animal rescue so more dogs find homes

A group of Moore School and USC students got to help little-known victims of the COVID-19 pandemic during the fall 2022 Data for Good Hackathon. The competition was organized by the Moore School’s Center for Applied Business Analytics (CABA) and Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) program.

Post-COVID-19, animal shelters around the country have been facing a slew of obstacles. The pandemic saw a spike in adoptions while people were isolated at home. Now, however, many of those pet owners have returned to work and realized they can no longer care for those pets.

This trend has led to pets being returned to shelters, which has caused overcrowding and higher euthanasia rates. Additionally, inflation has caused a decrease in funding and donations, less staffing as well as increased overall operating costs. Most rescues are nonprofits with very minimal space and few resources even during normal operations.

Wanting to work with a nonprofit for the hackathon, Necati Tereyagoglu, the CABA academic director and a management science associate professor, found the partnering organization on his coffee break. Just passing by the Final Victory Animal Rescue (FVAR) facility, then at their Sumter Street location, Tereyagoglu saw a group of dogs barking from the facility. He went into the rescue facility and met Mary Grigsby, outreach manager for FVAR, and proposed a collaboration on the competition.

To prepare for the hackathon, Tereyagoglu and Joonyuk Seo (’22 MSBA and MS in Fintech), CABA’s graduate assistant, first collected and structured the data provided by FVAR. Then, over a two-month period during the fall semester, USC students had the opportunity to participate in the hackathon. Students could choose to build a functioning prototype or submit a data science report with recommendations that would increase adoption rates. The competition had 35 participants who could work alone or in teams of up to four.

The teams with the top five projects were chosen to present during a November event. The projects were scored on creativity, usefulness and presentation quality. The top three winners were:

  • 1st place: Jenkins O’Malley (’25 USC cyber intelligence)
  • 2nd place: Sunwoo Shim (’23 MSBA and MS in Fintech), Becca Babineau (’23 MSBA), Donghyun Won (’23 MSBA and MS in Fintech), Joachim Sagayaraj (’23 MSBA)
  • 3rd place: Prithvi Samayamantri (’23 MSBA), Jason Goodman (’22 finance, ’23 MSBA), Jennifer Starkmann (’22 international business and operations and supply chain, ’23 MSBA)

First-place winner O’Malley said she participated in the hackathon because it combined her passions for computer science and animals and challenged her with an impactful, real-world project.

“My solution employed the perspective of determining which adoptable animals could utilize more attention — based on areas such as the length of stay, the number of views and the number of inquiries — to effectively allocate resources and energy toward those individual pets,” she said.

Third-place winner Samayamantri agreed with O’Malley that the competition helped his team relate in-class concepts to a real-world setting.

“We built a model in Python [business analytics software] that can identify the animals with the highest risk of non-adoption,” he said.

Grigsby said the animal rescue organization was impressed by the thought and analytical processes that went into the finalists’ presentations.

“We were very excited to have this opportunity to really go more in depth with our current data and figure out how we can improve our processes,” Grigsby said. “I was very excited to see things from the outside viewpoints of each team, to get an unbiased perspective of how FVAR can improve its operations and potentially expand into new processes or technologies.”

Data-driven decision-making is critical in every sector, and nonprofit applications give an opportunity to make positive societal impact with business analytics, said Pelin Pekgun, the MSBA faculty director and a management science associate professor.

“The theme of the hackathon was truly inspiring, helping FVAR with increasing adoption rates,” Pekgun said. “Based on their analyses, students needed to effectively communicate their findings to a panel of industry and academic experts, which is an important skill to become a successful business analytics professional.”

Pekgun said as a judge in the hackathon, she, too, was impressed with the creativity and the different perspectives that students from various disciplines were able to bring to their solutions.

Along with FVAR, hackathon partners included IBM, who generously provided cloud support to the student participants; SC Student Loan; NTT Data; and Capgemini.

Challenge the conventional. Create the exceptional. No Limits.