Entering the Big Ten Data Viz Championship

Love Data Week - February 12-16, 2024

Elsie Lee-Robbins: Big Ten Student Data Viz Champion!

Elsie Lee-Robbins, a PhD student in the U-M School of Information, has been selected the national Big Ten Academic Alliance Student Data Visualization Champion. With over 1,400 votes cast, the competition was very tight! In the student category, 11 institutions competed with student submissions. Elsie won for her Lego Themes from Generic to Franchise. Please join the U-M community in congratulating Elsie!

Christopher Gardner, a Business Intelligence Analyst Lead for Information and Technology Services, and Elsie were selected from the U-M entries to showcase our institution in the faculty/staff and student categories respectively.

The Backstory

U-M students, as well as faculty and staff, had an opportunity to challenge their peers at other Big Ten institutions by showcasing their data visualization skills and competing for the title of Big Ten Academic Alliance Data Viz Champion. Students were given a data set and asked to produce a data viz for submission, while faculty/staff submitted an existing viz that highlights their institution or one of its projects.

This Championship is part of the Big Ten Academic Alliance’s collaboration to celebrate International Love Data Week. Originally coordinated by Heather Coates, International Love Data Week is a celebration of all things data that seeks to bring people together to share their experiences, learn best practices, and have some fun. The international effort is now hosted at the University of Michigan’s ICPSR, and many Big Ten institutions coordinate their own institutional celebrations.


The students' challenge was to use the Lego Brick Database, published on Kaggle, to devise a data visualization to address the question(s) of their choice. Their visualization needed to be publicly available for voting and judging, and the students needed to be actively enrolled at the institution for graduate or undergraduate coursework, thesis, or dissertation study.

Potential research questions:

  1. What are the most common types of sets/bricks/colors?
  2. How have Lego sets changed over time (e.g., number of bricks, type of bricks, colors, types of sets)?
  3. In what ways do the themes (basic, police, racing, licensed brands) overlap and differ from each other?
  4. What might we infer about the people for whom Lego are designed based on what we know about the sets and bricks themselves?


The faculty/staff challenge was to submit an existing visualization that is used at U-M to share information. Visualizations could pertain to our institution as a whole or to a specific initiative or population. Submissions needed to be publicly available and follow U-M’s data policies.

Prizes / Selecting U-M’s Entries

U-M's winning entry in each of two categories – Student (Elsie's) and Faculty/Staff (Christopher's) – received a $250 U-M Tech Shop gift card and a $50 M Den gift card.

Contest judges from U-M selected one entry in each category to represent our institution on the Big Ten Academic Alliance Data Challenge website.

U-M judges looked for the following:

  • clear and interesting data stories
  • structure of the graphs and storyboards
  • demonstrated data integrity
  • overall quality of the aesthetic