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OU Student Wins ESPN Hackathon

OU psychology student, Melanie Lewis, won ESPN Hackathon with an innovative application of organizational psychology.

Norman, Okla.—A University of Oklahoma quantitative psychology doctoral student, Melanie Lewis, won the student division of the third annual ESPN Hackathon in March with her innovative idea to apply an industrial organizational psychology theory that looks at organizational citizenship behavior to sports analytics. Of the 47 students and professionals giving a 90-second presentation in the first round of the hackathon, only three students, including Lewis, and three professionals were selected to give a five-minute presentation at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference in Boston, Massachusetts.

“Participating in the Hackathon was an incredible opportunity to showcase the skills and knowledge fostered here at OU in front of an audience that included sports industry executives and front office staff from a variety of professional teams,” said Lewis.

The hackathon, with the theme “Measuring the Immeasurable,” was presented by ESPN and Ticketmaster and took place March 2 before the start of the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference. Participants in the student division were given five data sets from five different basketball games to analyze as well as a prompt to clearly define and measure the “immeasurable.” The data sets included play-by-play action for all players on a team, tracking data that included players on the court, line-up data for players on the court, optical data and box-score type data.

Lewis, who is an avid basketball fan, based her analysis on organizational citizenship behavior, originally described as the “good soldier syndrome,” and the rules that define it. In basketball, good soldiers are those players that sacrifice their own personal performance by acting in ways that help their teammates and team to improve. For instance, the player’s behavior is not one that appears on the traditional box-score, and the player acts only for the good of the team like a good soldier. Lewis looked for underlying traits for analysis, like taking a charge to draw an offensive foul or secondary assists that lead to a positive outcome for the team.

Few women are selected to participate in the hackathon and none known of pursuing a quantitative psychology major. Yet, it was Lewis’ quantitative psychology background that helped her come up with the winning idea for analyzing player data in a way that had not been done before. As a result, she won the contest by beating an applied mathematics major and a statistics major, and she was awarded the first place prize of an all-expenses paid trip to Ticketmaster’s headquarters in Los Angeles, California.

There are a number of quantitative psychology programs in the country, but Lewis chose OU’s nationally recognized program to pursue her doctoral degree. For more information about the quantitative psychology program within the OU College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Psychology, please visit www.ou.edu/cas/psychology/research/quantitative-psychology.html.