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Student Data Detectives help Service Canada arrest fraud

Submitted on Friday, March 10, 2023

Looking for help with a fictitious fraud problem, a team of Service Canada Officials spent four days at the Faculty of Information earlier this month. Their visit took the form of a Data Science Hackathon with students asked to put themselves in the shoes of Service Canada data scientists while competing for $11,500 in prize money. 

Students were informed that the Assistant Deputy Minister of Integrity had been hearing anecdotal reports of abuse and fraud with the new make-believe ARIS Family Benefit and wanted to ensure payments were going to the right people in the right amount. They were tasked with fixing potential errors while using their skills in data analytics and visualization. 

“This hackathon is a perfect example of learning about a real-world problem,” said Professor Kelly Lyons, who was one of the judges. “It’s important in a professional program that students not only have the opportunity to learn in the classroom but also to gain knowledge and competencies through other activities.”  

Students working on their laptops at the Data Science Hackathon in the Learning Hub

Service Canada representatives and Faculty of Information professors mentored students as they worked on their projects in the Learning Hub.

Organized in partnership with the Faculty of Information’s Learning Hub team, the event also gave students the chance to learn about the workings of Service Canada and careers in government and in data science. As part of the Hackathon, there were one-on-one lightning sit-downs with Service Canada representatives to discuss resumes and career goals. 

Several faculty members and Service Canada representatives mentored the different student teams throughout the event. Even in the aftermath of the year’s biggest snowstorm, the Learning Hub was buzzing with excitement and energy as the Hackathon students worked to beat the clock and solve the problem. Most of the student participants came from the User Experience Design (UXD) and Human-Centred Data Science (HCDS) concentrations of the Master of Information program. Bachelor of information students also participated.  

“The thing that impressed me the most was the students’ level of interest, level of effort, their knowledge, and their ability to receive feedback and come up with interesting products,” said Chris Muldowney, Executive Director of Integrity Analytics, Modernization, and Transformation at Service Canada. 

At the preliminary judging panel on the final day of the Hackathon, all 18 teams received feedback on their presentations before using the remaining time to refine their solutions.   

“I was just blown away by not only how students at this school look at data, but also from the ethical use of data, from the equity lens, and from the user experience lens. They really provided a broad-based context on the data science field,” said Mary Crescenzi, a genuine Assistant Deputy Minister, Integrity Services Branch, Service Canada. 

The Hackathon concluded with an award ceremony. Team Data Rats, comprised of Bachelor of Information students Marcin Jaczynski, Finn Korol-O’Dwyer and Jason Ngo, showed everyone just what undergrads can do by securing second place. 

The winners, Team Triple Threat (shown below) was comprised of Victoria Chui (MI-HCDS), Tiffany Lee (MI-HCDS and UXD), and Juliette Zaccour (MI-HCDS). They impressed the judges with their holistic approach. “One of the things I was struck by about the winning team was how one of them worked in UXD while the others were in HCDS,” said Lyons. “That was a really nice story about interdisciplinarity and how being interdisciplinary can make a solution that is more compelling.” 

winning team of 3 students holding their certificates with the 2 presenters

Professor Kelly Lyons with Team Triple Threat winners (left to right) Victoria Chui, Juliette Zaccour and Tiffany Lee. Assistant Deputy Minister Mary Crescenzi is on the right.

Team Triple Threat will be dividing up $5,000 worth of prize money. ” I’m proud that our efforts paid off,” said team member Lee. “We examined the ethical implications of the solutions and worked to create an effective and responsible tool.” 

The complete list of prize winners is here