Notre Dame graduate students win international data visualization hackathon

Author: Heather Asiala

The LASER PULSE consortium and the QED’s Center for Global data Visualization (CGDV) recently announced the winners of the ‘Visualizing Venezuelan Migration Issues in Colombia’ Hackathon.  Organized in collaboration with the University of Notre Dame’s Pulte Institute for Global Development, Purdue University, the USAID Mission in Colombia (USAID/Colombia), and Data Elevates, the event brought together student teams from Colombia and Indiana to demonstrate the power of open data for the benefit of public knowledge and policy. Teams were challenged to assess, analyze, and visualize data in order to make best practice recommendations for organizations and governments facing global challenges.

Nd Hackathon Winners 2
From left to right: Weiyi Zhao, Yun Yan, Yunqi He, Zhijing Zhao

The first place prize went to a group of four graduate students from the University of Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business for their submission entitled “A Staggering Exodus into Colombia.” Yun Yan, Yunqi He, Weiyi Zhao, and Zhijing Zhao — otherwise known as team “Why Women Code” — are all part of the one-year Master of Business Analytics (MSBA) program and produced an impressive visualization of how the inflow of Venezuelans has impacted Colombia’s economy and societal development. 

“I had a great experience participating in this Hackathon,” said team member Weiyi Zhao. “It provided a great opportunity for us to capitalize on the power of analytics to solve problems in real life. We are so excited to see our analysis bringing values to similar research in the field of world migration and making an impact in other people’s lives.” 


The winning submission produced several recommendations on providing assistance to Venezuelans both residing in and migrating to Colombia, focusing on drivers such as economic, government, and health care resources. Judges from QED, Purdue, and Notre Dame selected the top 11 data visualizations as finalists; USAID/Colombia then selected the 3 winning teams from the finalists.  

“We were looking for data visualizations that were not only information-oriented, but also useful in terms of informing policy and improving program implementation, and USAID/Colombia personnel felt the Notre Dame team best met that criteria,” said event co-organizer Frederick Rossi, Monitoring and Evaluation Specialist with the Pulte Institute. 

Rob Segan, Technical Director for Data Elevates and QED, added: “The past few months have shown us the added importance of data analysis and data visualization in international development. We hope this activity will showcase a fresh perspective on how we use data.”

A total of 85 individuals, comprising 29 teams from four universities, submitted data visualizations for the Hackathon. Melissa Aguirre, a Master’s student in Universidad del Norte’s Public Health Department, and Laura Bonilla, an Epidemiology graduate from Universidad Industrial de Santander, took second place with their submission "La Migración Me Quedo o Me Voy?" (“Migration: Should I Stay or Should I Go?”). In third place were Alexandre Vives and Jose Berrizbeitia, juniors in the Industrial Engineering program at Purdue University, for their submission “Eder and the Venezuelan Migration Crisis". All of the submitted entries can be found here by selecting LASER PULSE in the “Select Challenge” drop-down menu.

The winning teams will receive a cash prize provided by Purdue and the Pulte Institute, as well as merchandise from Tableau, another sponsor of the event. More information about upcoming Hackathons can be found on the CGDV website.

LASER (Long-Term Assistance and Services for Research) PULSE (Partners for University-Led Solutions Engine) is a consortium dedicated to bringing together development practitioners and academic researchers to collaborate on the major development challenges facing USAID-priority countries. This five-year, USAID-funded program is led by Purdue University in collaboration with the University Notre Dame (Pulte Institute for Global Development), Indiana University, Makerere University (Uganda), and Catholic Relief Services.

The Pulte Institute for Global Development—an integral part of the Keough School of Global Affairs at the University of Notre Dame—works to address global poverty and inequality through policy, practice, and partnership.

Contact: Heather Asiala, Communications Program Manager, Pulte Institute for Global Development, 574-631-0236,