Li Zhao, Michael Bartoli and Vivian Chen

Driven by data and connected through friendship, Pomona's newest competitive squad already is excelling in the fast-growing field of analytics. Known as the Sages, sophomores Michael Bartoli, Vivian Chen and Li Zhao joined together earlier this year to build and sharpen their skills, and test them against teams from other schools.

Zhao is an economics and math double major, while Chen is pursuing a mathematical economics major with an art history minor. Bartoli is majoring in computer science. All three delve into data analysis, and their work also involves graphic design, data visualization and coding.

In their first case study competition last month, at the Wharton People Analytics Conference, the trio was the only undergraduate group to make it to the semifinals, going up against teams from Wharton and the business schools at Harvard and Columbia.

"None of us had ever done a case competition. It really exceeded our expectations," says Chen. "Being the youngest there, we felt like we learned the most."

So the trio will be off to more competitions next school year.

The Wharton conference case involved evaluating Teach for America admissions data to make the program's selection process more efficient. Bartoli, Chen and Li analyzed a large dataset to come up with a predictive model to apply to future data.

 "We had to use our own creativity and knowledge of data analysis … to make their process more efficient and effective," says Chen, adding that the team's liberal arts training was useful because "it gave us a different perspective."

Adds Bartoli: "It all kind of ties back to people analytics. There's this revolution happening in H.R. right now. Decisions are becoming more and more data-driven." 

At the conference, the trio had the chance to meet a key pioneer in using data for hiring decision-making, Pomona alumnus Laszlo Bock '93, senior vice president of people operations at Google (and recently named to H.R. Executive's 10 Most Influential list). "It was fantastic," says Bartoli. "He was so positive about Pomona."

Related link: "A Few Good Googlers," (Pomona College Magazine, Fall 2010, pages 25-29) [pdf]