Redistricting project wins Rice Datathon

Rice CS undergrad teams take home all three top prizes

Redistricting project wins Rice Datathon

Photo: Members of the winning Houston redistricting team, from left: Zach Rewolinski, Quan Le, Ankit Patel and Nathan Powell. Photo by Brandon Chen


Four Rice University undergraduates won the top prize for their analysis of Houston voting districts at this year’s Rice Datathon, a 24-hour data science competition hosted both in person and virtually in late January. 

The “BakerRipley Challenge: Houston Redistricting” team — Ankit Patel (statistics major, minor in classical civilizations), Quan Le (computer science, computational and applied mathematics, mathematics major), Nathan Powell (computer science major) and Zach Rewolinski (computer science major) — used optimization and Markov chain Monte Carlo techniques to draw voting districts that would be representative and fair across racial groups and other demographics.   

“We’ve learned what a full data science project was like, especially with geospatial data,” Patel said. “We had a lot of fun addressing a social issue, Houston redistricting, that we thought was very important and we'd make a positive impact on it.” 

Their project also won the Best Social Impact category.

A total of $18,891 in cash and other prizes was awarded to the winning teams. More than 450 students from Rice, Texas Southern University, Prairie View A&M University and the University of Houston registered for the event and 47 teams presented projects for judgment. 

The top team members won $500 apiece. 

The second-place “Link & Recommendation” team of Rice graduate students Yun Sun, Haijiao Lu and Tianjian (Tom) Sun, all statistics majors, and computer science major Yuhan Yang won $300 apiece for their project to make it easier for users to navigate sparsely connected networks of data to get real-world recommendations.

The third-place “Oh, Well” team of undergraduates Talia Frindell (computer science), Gail Oudekerk (statistics, social policy analysis), Natasha Patnaik (economics/mathematical economic analysis, operations research) and Katelynn Salmon (statistics) won $200 apiece for their work toward creating an offshore drilling road map. 

Data science mentors including Ph.D. students, faculty and company sponsors provided in-person and online support throughout the event. Many Rice alumni attended and served as sponsors, judges and mentors. was the presenting sponsor. Goldman Sachs, Google, Aimpoint Digital, Chevron, Medical Informatics Corp., Teknoir, BakerRipley, Cognite and Shell were co-sponsors. The event was organized by the Data to Knowledge Lab and the Rice DataSci Club.

See all the winners here:


Mike Williams, Public Affairs senior media relations specialist