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One Mic Stand: Pitt Launches Community-Based Analytics Challenge to Address Homelessness

Interview by Jonathan Kersting

One Mic Stand


Recognizing the importance of leveraging business skills to positively impact critical social issues, the University of Pittsburgh Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business developed and launched its first-ever Super Analytics Challenge, a new community-based initiative. The 2021 challenge addresses the complex issue of homelessness in the Pittsburgh community and will formally run from March 19-26, 2021.

The University is working with the Allegheny County Department of Human Services (DHS) to examine scenarios that either led people and families into becoming homeless, or factors which may prevent homelessness. The focus on homelessness was selected given this is a global issue that has been further complicated by the Covid-19 pandemic’s potential increase of its prevalence. The many contributing factors of homelessness, such as physical and mental health, the affordable housing supply, economic conditions, and the intersection of the judicial system, as well as the wide availability of published data and research, present an urgent opportunity for Pitt graduate students to provide meaningful insights and proposals for targeted mitigation efforts.

The Super Analytics Challenge will be a one-week hackathon style competition in which graduate students will team up to frame a problem, create a data methodology, and generate an operable solution. Students from various graduate programs across the University applied to be a part of this Challenge. Twenty five students were appointed to five teams, and the official pre-launch professional development opportunities began on Friday, February 12, 2021.

The goal is for all student teams to generate innovative solutions that Allegheny County DHS may implement. Solutions will be judged not only on the depth of their analytical thinking, but also the pragmatism of the solution proposed.

To structure this Super Analytics Challenge, Pitt Business organized an advisory committee consisting of representatives from UPMC, Highmark, Accenture, SAP, the National Association of Counties, and the Pittsburgh Technology Council. Executives from these organizations shaped the challenge. Importantly, they also marshalled executive coaches, analytical methods experts, and subject matter specialists who will work alongside the graduate students to share experience and knowledge, and provide guidance on the proposed solutions.

“The Super Analytics Challenge is an example of Pitt Business reinventing business education,” said Sara Moeller, Associate Dean of Graduate Programs at Pitt Business. “Our strategic goals include doing more to partner with our community as a catalyst for change, and to combine classroom concepts with integrated learning opportunities.”

The Super Analytics Challenge is designed to provide impact for all participants. Allegheny County DHS, with support from the advisory committee organizations, will receive an outside, novel examination for how to address this complex issue. Advisory committee members are able to actively contribute toward analytics skill development of future business leaders. Graduate students will leverage their business skills to work with DHS on homelessness. In addition, they will have the opportunity to hone their understanding of real-world concepts by working with experts on a critical issue.     

“At the end of this challenge, we hope that these collective efforts not only enrich our students’ learning experience, but leave a positive impact on the wider Pittsburgh community,” said Moeller.