Analytics U takes data on a thrill ride at Mall of America®
Tuesday, August 15, 2023
Nickelodeon Universe at Mall of America® offers more than just thrilling theme park rides, it also holds a wealth of data full of key business implications. That’s what Twin Cities metro area high school students discovered during the Carlson School’s Analytics U program.
The camp, aimed at those underrepresented in STEM fields, introduces high school students to the basics of data science through an immersive, hands-on experience. This year marked the return of Analytics U, which had paused amid the pandemic, with 26 participating.
During the weeklong camp, students spent a day at Nickelodeon Universe collecting data. With each barcode scan before each ride, their wristbands recorded rows of information about their time at the amusement park. Back at the Carlson School, teams worked to find the story within the data, turning around insights under a tight deadline before presenting their findings to a panel of judges made up of Mall of America data scientists.
The winning team noticed what they called “The Lunch Effect” in their dataset, where ridership for the thrill rides dipped after the lunch hour, but the calmer rides saw an increase. The students suggested the finding could help the mall plan staffing levels for the rides.
“After lunch, we rode rides like the Carousel, which is a very slow, chill ride, so we were like, ‘I wonder if the other teams experienced that,’” described Aneesa Dahir, a rising senior at St. Louis Park High School. “[Looking at the data], we were really surprised. The Pepsi coaster had a big decline after lunch even though it’s the most popular ride.”
This work is a small peek behind the curtain at what data scientists do on a daily basis at Mall of America. Phil MacDonald, who leads the mall’s data team, says he hopes the experience encourages students to pursue careers they hadn’t imagined before.
“Perhaps this will help some people decide data science is what really resonates with them, and this is what they want to go into,” shared MacDonald, the mall’s director of data analytics, business intelligence, and application development. “To be a part of this discovery process with Mall of America was fantastic.”
Kevin Romero Rivera, a rising senior at Columbia Heights High School, says he’s already imagining different possibilities and revamping his LinkedIn profile.
“I would honestly recommend this program to anyone who is interested in data analytics,” reflected Romero Rivera. “Before coming here I was interested in dental hygiene, so like it was completely different. I'm very glad I decided to take a jump and try this out.”
Throughout camp, students also conducted site visits at companies, like Best Buy and The Good Acre; connected with local business leaders; and received college readiness guidance. While participation in Analytics U does not guarantee acceptance into the University of Minnesota, the camp aims to provide students with exposure to lifelong skills.
“For many, this is a brand new experience and now they have a wider skill set, from analysis basics to public speaking, they can take with them to an internship, a job, or just school in general,” said Jeffery Williams, the coordinator for diversity pathway initiatives and community partnerships with the Carlson School’s Undergraduate program.