Like many college students, University of Houston-Victoria student Prabha Sapkota pulled an all-nighter during the fall semester to complete a project. And her hard work paid off when she won a data challenge at a national conference.

Sapkota, a senior from Houston studying computer information systems, recently won first place along with a University of Houston-Downtown student in the Data Analytic Hackathon during the Great Minds in STEM national conference. Sapkota was one of five UHV students who was awarded a sponsorship to attend the conference.

“The Great Minds in STEM conference is the nation’s most prestigious place for computer science and computer information system students to present their work, build networks and find internships and jobs,” said Qi Zhu, a UHV computer science professor. “It is a great pleasure for me to see that our students could use what they learn from their classes and take on the challenge with great energy.”

The Great Minds in STEM annual conference promotes science, technology, engineering and math careers in underserved communities. Five students from UHV were able to attend the two-week virtual conference through a sponsorship by the Computing Alliance in Hispanic-Serving Institutions.

Including Sapkota, the UHV students awarded sponsorships this year were Artee Shrestha, of Katy, a senior studying computer information systems; Susana Samayoa, of Corpus Christi, a senior studying computer science; Jocelyne Martinez, a senior from Pflugerville studying computer science; and Blaise Wangmeni, a senior from Katy studying computer science.

Sapkota and her competition partner won $200 each for winning first place. Students had to figure out a target variable of data based on the insights of another set of data. Sapkota and her teammate used machine-learning techniques to get results with 97.9% accuracy during the competition. Sapkota would like to pursue a career in data science.

“We worked so hard on the Hackathon with such a limited amount of time, and we didn’t really sleep,” Sapkota said. “It was all worth winning the competition and knowing how accurate our calculations came out. The whole conference was a great experience, and I recommend students apply for next year’s conference. Thank you to Dr. Zhu for this opportunity and to all my professors for the guidance throughout classes. I am glad to be part of UHV.”

Samayoa won $100 in a video contest for a video describing her past internship experiences to help inspire more Latino students to pursue STEM careers. She has had internships at NASA’s Stennis Space Center, L3Harris Technologies and Northrop Grumman. At the conference, she also presented her research, “Analysis of Water Use and Water Scarcity in Arid and Semi-Arid Regions with focus on Texas and Arizona” for a poster competition.

“The entire conference gives you a lot of great information and helps you with soft skills,” Samayoa said. “You have the opportunity to put yourself out there and learn new things, which helps make you a better student and future employee. I am really glad that I was awarded the sponsorship.”

During the conference, students also had the opportunity to attend workshops and seminars that focused on self-development, soft skills, interview readiness, and topics such as what it’s like to be a woman in the computer science field. Some of the seminars and events Shrestha attended included a cyber security workshop and a career fair, where participants were able to have video interviews with representatives from Boeing, NASA, Verizon, Google and others.

“All of the seminars were focused on STEM and how to succeed in the field,” Shrestha said. “The conference made me a better version of me. I came out more confident and knowledgeable. I will be always grateful to UHV, Computing Alliance in Hispanic-Serving Institutions and Dr. Zhu for providing me this opportunity and to all my professors for guiding me in each and every course I have taken.”

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