Doctoral student awarded fellowship by Women in Sports Tech

KENNESAW, Ga. | Jun 8, 2020

Jessica Rudd
Jessica Rudd

After nearly a decade as an epidemiologist and biostatistician at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Jessica Rudd felt an innate need to broaden her skillset in analytics and data science.

Then, in 2015, she saw the sign.

While driving north on Interstate 75 toward Chattanooga, she passed a billboard near Exit 271 that would change her career trajectory. It was an advertisement for Kennesaw State University’s Ph.D. degree program in Analytics and Data Science, the first of its kind in the country. After returning home, she called Jennifer Priestley, executive director of Analytics & Data Science Institute, and discussed the prospect of joining the program, in which she would enroll a year later.

“I often joke that I am the only person who actually saw their future on a billboard,” said Rudd, who earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from Emory University before starting her position in the CDC’s Division of Viral Diseases.

Since arriving at KSU, Rudd has added more than a dozen peer-reviewed publications and conference proceedings to her name. Recently, she was awarded a summer fellowship by Women in Sports Tech, a nonprofit organization driving growth opportunities for women in sports tech and innovation. The $5,000 grant will support her as she applies her research in analytics and data science to wearable technology that aids with soft tissue recovery.

“They’re interested in learning how they can leverage the data they are collecting from this new product in order make it more marketable,” said Rudd, who will work alongside a medical doctor and former NASA astronaut as part of the fellowship. “This particular project will allow me to leverage my background in health, human behavior and analytics while helping me gain new experiences in how to package all of that together to build a brand. It was simply too good of an opportunity to pass up.”

Despite her extensive background in epidemiology, Rudd said the fellowship opportunity came at the perfect time. While industries have adjusted their hiring practices amid the coronavirus pandemic, she saw it as the perfect opportunity to take a risk by branching into a new area, allowing her to both expand her skillset and network with sports industry professionals.

However, sports are nothing new to Rudd. A season ticket holder Atlanta United Football Club, she spent much of her childhood attending New York Islanders and New York Yankees games. She has also found ways to incorporate her love of sports into her research prior to the fellowship. Despite limited experience with basketball, she saw the challenge of predicting brackets in the 2019 NCAA basketball tournament as mathematically similar to her previous work in epidemiology and specific analyzing genomes, ultimately entering herself into a bracket pool with a group of colleagues.

“The way I saw it, I had two choices: build a bracket based on the teams’ seeds or I can find a way to completely engineer this thing,” Rudd said. “From that point on, I was determined to be the person who knew nothing about the teams but still found a way to win the bracket.”

The probability of picking the perfect bracket is less than 1-in-9-quintillion, and there are outside factors such as injuries that can heavily influence the outcomes of each game. However, using a genetic algorithm, Rudd managed to complete a March Madness bracket with a 94 percent accuracy rate and correctly predicted the winner, the University of Virginia. Her work would later earn her first place in the Graduate College’s Three Minute Thesis Competition and first place in the graduate division at the 2019 Analytics Day hosted by the Analytics and Data Science Institute. She would go on to represent KSU at the University System of Georgia’s annual research review.

“After four years, as Jessica approaches the final defense of her dissertation, our program is forever changed for having had Jessica as a student and as a colleague,” Priestley said. “She’s changed the scope of the kind of students we seek for our program. Her ability to approach problems from an alternative perspective has led to some truly interesting discoveries. She is tenacious, goal-oriented and a fiercely loyal team member, and now we find ourselves benchmarking applicants against Jessica.”

– Travis Highfield

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 45,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit