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BIS students win top awards at national IT competition

Published on April 16, 2024

BIS students win top awards at national IT competition

Awardees with their citations and faculty advisor Alex Citurs, center. The students, from left, are Andrew Cavar, Brandon Steen, Sam Hurlburt and Jacob Cohen.

Students from the Business Information Systems/Information Technology Students of America (BIS-ITSA) club at Eastern Connecticut State University won top awards at the recent U.S. IT Collegiate Conference in Louisiana. The national conference consisted of eight applied IT skill competitions, ranging from security and PC troubleshooting to network and database design. 

Seniors Andrew Cavar and Brandon Steen took home first place in the Microsoft Office Solutions contest; juniors Jacob Cohen and Samuel Hurlburt placed in the top five of the business analytics competition.

With a diverse scope of universities present — such as Texas State University, Missouri State University and the University of Iowa — the students faced strong competitors. Considering the size of these institutions, the Eastern students' standout performance speaks to their hard work and abilities, noted BIS Professor Alex Citurs, faculty advisor to the BIS-ITSA club.

The Microsoft Office Solutions contest asked students to utilize products and features within Microsoft software, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint and Access. They were asked to create an end-to-end data management/presentation solution, which was evaluated for analysis and sophistication.

Cavar and Steen's names represent Eastern as first-place winners.

From left: Cavar, Steen, Cohen and Hurlburt work on their projects.

Steen said, “Honestly, what I had wanted most out of the competition was the opportunity to have fun and learn a great deal about (ITS). Nobody from our group anticipated that we would get acknowledged for the Microsoft Office Solutions competition, as it was the one with the most competitors.”

“They named third and second, then suddenly we were named one of the best in the nation,” said Cavar. “I embraced (Steen) in astonishment and collected our award. This is the first time our school has placed first in this event and bringing home gold felt very fulfilling.”

Steen agreed, saying, “It was incredible to realize that we managed to challenge universities of top caliber and be among the highest-ranking teams in the competition.”

During the business analytics competition, students worked in a variety of applied business analytical methods, dealing with real-world data, descriptive analysis, forecasting models, and visualizing and describing the implications of their analysis findings.

The competition was fierce, with students from a diverse range of universities around the country.
“While the four-hour limit may sound like forever, when you're actually in it, it feels like five minutes,” said Cohen. “Time flies, obstacles arise and code fails. You had to be able to pivot and explore new strategies to be successful.”

His teammate Hurlburt agreed. “It felt great being able to look back and specifically point to the BIS Program and see how much it prepared us to tackle these types of challenges.”

The students were accompanied by Professor Citurs: “It has been very rewarding to see these four students grow their integrated applied business and technical skillsets and successfully utilize these skills in real-world based projects ... From day one of meeting each of them, it was obvious that they possessed a strong desire to learn and leverage their abilities and skills in solving real-world project challenges.”

The students credit their success to the rigor of their studies at Eastern and the support of their faculty mentors. The BIS program encourages students to gain practical knowledge in their courses. Over time, they gain applied Structure Query Language (SQL) skills necessary for succeeding after they graduate. Additionally, the BIS-ITSA club connects students with program alumni who can act as mentors in navigating the job market.

Steen said of the program, “The guidance of Dr. Citurs, the activities hosted by the club and the connections I have made with students on campus have been invaluable for my academic and career success, and it has steered my life in the direction of great fortune and opportunity.”

Cavar agreed. He won an honorable mention at last year’s IT collegiate conference with Cohen before becoming more involved in the BIS program as a teaching assistant and as president of the BIS-ITSA Club. He said, “It was with this dedication and love for the program that I was able to achieve first place and put our University's program back on the map.”

The Eastern students at work on their projects. 

“Seeing the BIS Program students get recognized at the national level was a moment of thankful joy and pride that our Eastern students could compete, place well and win at the national level against top students from much larger schools from across the country," Citurs said. It has been very gratifying that between this year and last year, our BIS students have placed in the top five nationally in three core BIS skillset areas: Microsoft Office Solutions, database design and business analytics, which are skillsets in high demand by Connecticut employers in high paying biz-tech job positions.”

At the conference students also attended various informational sessions and exhibitions and connected with other professionals. Hurlburt said, “It was great being able to connect with students who share the same interests as me as well as professionals who had lots of advice to share.”

Following graduation, Cavar will be joining Travelers as a data engineer. Steen and Cohen will be joining him at Travelers as interns for the Business Insights and Analytics Program, where they can further develop their skills. In the coming years, Hurlburt hopes to pursue a career in sports analytics.

Written by Marcus Grant