The Charger Blog

Students Serve as Consultants to Port Authority

A unique and immersive project enabled undergraduate and graduate students to work with the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, analyzing data and applying what they’ve learned in the classroom in a real-world setting.

February 12, 2024

By Renee Chmiel, Office of Marketing and Communications

The University of New Haven’s campus in Orange, Conn.
The University of New Haven’s campus in Orange, Conn.

Alexander Gunnarsson ’24 and his teammates carefully consolidated more than 100 datasets, looking for trends and identifying missing values. The data came from the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, and the students were working with the agency to predict the number of passengers and bus departures.

Working with real-world data from the Port Authority, the students cleaned and prepared the data for analysis. They used data from early 2020 to late 2023 to identify historical trends and use them to predict future patterns. Gunnarsson took a deep dive into the data, ensuring there were no errors and using their large, consolidated dataset to create visuals showing their forecasts and trends.

“By projecting the data into the future, we could deliver predicted dates of when the Port Authority would reach certain milestones,” explains Gunnarsson, a business analytics major. “The goal was to improve the predictive ability of the time-series data we initially received.”

‘It felt rewarding’

The project was part of an immersive Fall 2023 course taught by Pindaro Demertzoglou, Ph.D., a senior lecturer of economics and business analytics. Students also researched and identified additional factors that might impact passenger numbers, such as gas prices, weather, holidays, and sporting events. They used a variety of models and software, such as Excel and Microsoft Power BI, as they worked on their analyses.

Alexander Gunnarsson ’24.
Alexander Gunnarsson ’24.

For Ronan Johnston ’25, Gunnarsson’s teammate, the project challenged him to build his time management skills, as he was taking seven classes. While he was managing a challenging course load, he says Dr. Demertzoglou offered a great deal of support, and that it was a wonderful learning experience.

Gunnarsson, Johnston, and their teammates were one of more than 16 groups working with the Port Authority’s data and making predictions. The agency selected their work as the top project in the class.

“Something that stood out to me when we were selected as the winner was that we were the only undergraduate group in our class,” said Johnston, a business analytics major. “It felt rewarding knowing that we were competing against graduate students who may or may not already be in the industry, but it felt even more rewarding knowing that the Port Authority thought our report was the best.”

‘Deliver professional results’

Dr. Demertzoglou is dedicated to ensuring that his students have a variety of opportunities to learn beyond traditional lectures. He always offers a laboratory component as part of his classes so that students can gain hands-on experience and explore the latest technology as part of their coursework. He doesn’t just want to discuss the results of economic choices – he wants to show them.

A dedicated educator, Dr. Demertzoglou endeavors to prepare students to use numbers to make the best decisions possible, whether they are making business decisions, investing, or managing their own money. But, he believes, showing and telling them the impact of data and decision-making aren’t enough to ensure they have the best possible education.

“The last component is to take on real corporate projects and provide solutions to big corporations,” explains Dr. Demertzoglou. “Students work as fully fledged consultants. However, I do not leave my students alone throughout the semester to work on the project. I work with them as a member of every team, and we go through weekly iterations throughout the semester. We work as professionals to deliver professional results. It is also a lot of fun throughout the semester.”

‘An amazing experience’

Students collaborated with staff at the Port Authority, working with them as they would a client. Staff say data is a critical part of their work as they strive to make informed decisions to continue to enhance their customers’ experience.

“Working with groups such as the University of New Haven allows us to test out new ideas and methods that we don’t have time for in our daily operations but are still important for progressing towards delivering the most optimal experience for our end users,” the Port Authority said. “We would like to thank the students and faculty for their time and hope that these projects are as beneficial to their learning as they are to our data efforts.”

For Gunnarsson, the business analytics major, the project was a great way to apply what he learned in Dr. Demertzoglou’s class. He’s grateful for the opportunity to build his skills as well as develop real-world connections.

“It was an amazing experience to work with the Port Authority,” he said. “We got clear instructions and knew exactly what they needed. This was a great opportunity because it allowed me to use the skills I have learned and developed in the classroom to work on a real project in a professional setting.”