Part of the winning team from the 2022 Illini Datathon, Peiwen Zhang and her teammate received Synchrony internship opportunities on the spot.

In anticipation for the upcoming 2023 Datathon, let's revisit last year's Datathon and check in with one of the winners, Peiwen Zhang. The Datathon, held every year, challenges hundreds of students to tackle a real-world problem using data. Participants can expect to utilize a variety of data cleaning and visualization software to present a solution for the problem statement. Last year's prompt involved identifying and improving customer satisfaction levels with a chatbot. Students were tasked with creating models that utilized various factors such as the time spent in chat and number of lines typed to produce practical results. 

Synchrony, one of the Datathon sponsors, is proud to contribute to such a meaningful experience through providing a team of qualified mentors and judges. This is not the first time Synchrony has collaborated with the University of Illinois. In 2018, Synchrony opened the Emerging Technology Center (ETC) at Research Park, employing upwards of 50 interns who work across various engineering and business disciplines to advance the company's finance and technology capabilities. For the past four years, the ETC has worked alongside Synchrony's teams to present the Datathon at Illinois. 

Peiwen Zhang
Stat-MS student, 2022 Illini Datathon winner, and Synchrony intern, Peiwen Zhang.

In order to better understand Peiwen's experiences with the Datathon, the University of Illinois Statistics Department conducted an interview with her. She explained how her team focused on improving the chatbot by adding additional creative features to optimize the customer experience. "We didn't stop at the visualization results. We dug deeper into those results and tried to find a way to really improve customer satisfaction," she said. Her team's hardwork and determination paid off, earning them first place among 40 teams. Peiwen and her partner's work was even recognized by Synchrony's CEO, who offered her an internship on the spot. She would later go on to accept a full time offer with Synchrony. Karin Dor Markovich, who works as the ETC site director and a Datathon mentor, stated that Peiwen's team had shown all the right attributes for success. "It's not just the end results, but the path they chose to get there."

Currently, Peiwen is working towards a master's in statistics from Illinois, and when asked to give advice to students partaking in the 2023 Datathon, she said "Remember that you're solving a practical problem, so you should always combine your theoretical knowledge with a practical situation." 

The 2023 Datathon kicks off this Friday, March 24th at the Campus Instructional Facility. We look forward to seeing everyone there!


Elizabeth McNutt

Elizabeth McNutt is the staff writer for the Department of Statistics. If you have news to share, please contact the Statistics news group at