Students visualize data to solve problems at Build Day contest

Bara Safarova

Bara Safarova

Discussions of race, rights and inclusivity throughout the Brazos Valley abounded at the Feb. 5 – 6, 2016 Open Data Build Day competition in which citizen teams vied for prize money by mining and manipulating census data to create spatially illustrated solutions for diversity-related challenges.

“There was $5000 in prize money for the teams that submitted the most daring, critical, creative, engaging and practical solutions,” said Bara Safarova, a doctoral student who helped the Texas A&M College of Architecture Diversity Council organize the 22-hour marathon competition.

The various challenges, related to social issues influenced by ethnicity, gender, age or a disabilities, were announced at the start of contest by Bryan and College Station city officials and representatives from the Brazos Valley African-American Museum and other participating groups.

“The challenges,” Safarova said, “were designed to generate critical discussions about diversity and inclusivity at Texas A&M and throughout the Brazos Valley.”

Build Day participants had 23 hours to respond with solutions derived from datasets available from the U.S. Census and other public agencies. Their answers were illustrated spatially using art, geographic information system maps.

For instance, Safarova said, “a group could illustrate local ethnic and economic components by building a Bryan/College Station outline in the college woodshop, then attaching different-colored balloons to map area poverty, ethnicity or employment status.”

The community-wide event, B/CS Diversity Open Data Build Day, was open to anyone interested in competing and no special skills were required.

In addition to U.S. Census datasets, participants had access to Texas A&M student and faculty demographic information and data from local law enforcement agencies. Contestants also access to the College of Architecture’s woodshop to create their entries.

Entries were evaluated by a jury composed of university faculty and representatives from the local agencies who issued the challenges, including Rafael Peña, Bryan city councilman; Stormy Potter, city of College Station public safety GIS analyst; Brett Blankner, city of College Station GIS coordinator; Jennifer Chenoweth, an Austin-based artist, and Oliver Sadberry, Brazos Valley African American Museum curator.

The B/CS Diversity Open Data Build Day, was also sponsored by the the Texas A&M Engineering Experiment Station’s Center for the Study of Digital Libraries.

posted February 2, 2016