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Mason Team Wins Prize in Virtual Virginia Datathon

In a field of twenty-six competing teams, a team of students from George Mason University was awarded second place for their presentation on Addressing Hunger with Bits and Bytes, the theme of this year’s Virtual Virginia Datathon held October 7 and 8. The team, with Faysal Shaikh, MS student, Computational and Data Sciences, as team leader, also included Bikram Adhikari, PhD student, Computer Science; Amira Al-Khulaidy,  PhD student, Computational Social Sciences; Kokou Wilfried Letsou, PhD student, Computational Science and Informatics; and Luke Palmieri, BS student, Computational and Data Sciences .

The challenge for the Datathon teams, which included representatives from state agencies, students, localities, non-profits, and the private sector, was to develop data-driven solutions to address hunger in the Commonwealth by developing workable solutions that could serve all Virginians.

Participants were given specific instructions on where to find the data available to them in devising their programs and on the length and format of their presentations, and suggestions for tools they might use. The teams were told that their presentation content must state the problem, the solution they proposed, how they reached that solution, and the value proposition, as well as the value to the community and to the Commonwealth of Virginia.

The Mason team analyzed available data, in one scenario taking into account car ownership (or lack thereof) and reasonable access to a grocery store.  The results showed a “stranded” group of individuals who were doubly affected by not having access to a car and by grocery stores too far away to access easily without a car. Additionally, the team developed a "Funds Ratio" measure to showcase hidden areas that may seem to have a low poverty rate but upon further inspection have a relatively low amount of per-person assistance funds; i.e., the area is not using SNAP or other potential resources as much as they could be.

Presentations were judged on impact, innovation, feasibility, completeness of idea, and presentation. As with all research generated at this event, information provided by the GMU team could have positive implications for the Datathon’s goal of addressing hunger in Virginia.

According to GMU team leader Shaikh, “It was an incredible opportunity to participate in the 2021VADatathon and work with fantastic team members who truly took ownership of this project and produced such thoughtful work. Hope to see this data help our leaders better address food insecurity in our local communities.”

Mason's Winning Team:

Faysal Shaikh
Bikram Adhikari
Amira Al-Khulaidy
Kokou Letsou
Luke Palmieri

To see the team's presentation, go to