Posted on April 17, 2024 by Christopher Reichert

Four graduate students from the Carlos Alvarez College of Business at UTSA are one of three winning teams of the 2024 SAS Curiosity Cup, a global data analytics competition. They were awarded first place in the data presentation category.
Members of the winning SAS data analytics competition

Members of the winning SAS data analytics competition

The team was comprised of students in the college’s M.S. in Data Analytics program and were named the Data Crusaders. Team members were Niharika Bandlamudi, Ki Jeong, Nupoor Karnik and Gagana Uday Kumar.

For their competition entry, the team analyzed data from the 17 most-populated countries in the world to explore how population growth affected energy usage. What they found surprised them. The students had expected that as a country’s population increased, so would its energy consumption – and for about 75% of countries this was true.

However, in the remaining countries, energy usage appeared to stay the same or even decrease. The team hypothesizes that this is due to increased energy conservation efforts as well as the miniaturization and improved efficiency of modern electronic devices. The Data Crusaders also tracked the prevalence of renewable energy sources over time, their data showing that from 1995-2021, the reliance on renewable energy more than doubled.

“It was a great selection of a research topic,” said Isil Koyuncu, faculty advisor and assistant professor of management science and statistics. “It’s so relevant, and caring about society and sustainability is really important. We need more research in this area.”

Initially the Data Crusaders had no intentions of competing in the Curiosity Cup. It wasn’t until Koyuncu suggested entering that the team learned the competition even existed.

“It was originally just a classroom project,” Jeong said. “But from the beginning, she encouraged us to apply to the Curiosity Cup and was supportive the whole way. Then, while we were doing it, we realized our project was pretty decent, so we decided to polish it up and submit it, and we ended up being finalists.”

For the Data Crusaders, this outcome was completely unexpected. “I think we didn’t believe in ourselves,” said Karnik. “We didn’t think that we would get selected, and when we got selected, we were over the moon.”

As competition winners, the members of the Data Crusaders are allowed to select from a variety of prizes, from an Apple iPad to a Nintendo Switch. All winners and runners-up will also receive 12 months of access to SAS software of their choice. But regardless of prizes won, the Data Crusaders say the experience alone was worth the effort they put into their project.

“We’re at a stage now where we’re starting to realize we’re actually developing as proper data analysts,” Jeong said. “Before this, it was very much a student mindset: we’re still learning, we’re not good enough, we’re very new at this, let’s just do our best. But now, we’re starting to transition into mature data analysts. With that, we’re gaining a sense of confidence in our abilities.”

This self-confidence, Kumar agrees, is the real prize of the Curiosity Cup.  “It’s not for anybody else, it’s for yourself. It gives you the confidence that you are ready to face the world and ready to take up any job. You’re going to be the best at it. This is a stepping stone. So, if just to boost your own confidence, take that leap.”

The Curiosity Cup is an annual data analytics challenge sponsored by analytics and artificial intelligence software developer SAS Institute. This year’s competition featured 107 teams from 19 countries all competing to be recognized for their data preparation, analysis and presentation.

For more information on the SAS Curiosity Cup or to view the presentation video, visit

— Christopher Reichert