Hurt Hub Hackathon Promotes Communication, Innovation


Students participate in the annual Hackathon, located this year at the Hub. Photo by Emma Brentjens ‘21

By Jack Dowell ‘21 

Staff Writer

Last Saturday, the Jay Hurt Hub for Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Davidson College hosted the annual Hackathon, during which teams of students used coding and communications to create applied solutions to a given challenge. This year’s event followed an inaugural on-campus Hackathon in the spring of 2017.

The competition was relocated to the Hub as construction is complete and the space is newly opened to the student body this semester. According to Dr. Michelle Kuchera, one of the event’s organizers and a member of the Physics Department, the competition was held at the Hurt Hub because the Hub is “a great co-working space … and [the Hackathon] is also in the spirit of the Hub in that we’re bringing a lot of people of different backgrounds together to achieve a goal.”

The prompt challenged participants to “create a digital submission that allows some targeted group of people to experience Davidson in a new way.” While the term “hackathon” suggests coding, students were allowed to tackle the given problem in any way they desired. According to Kuchera, one of the most targeted skills at the Hackathon is communication; “if you can’t communicate [your idea] well, people won’t know you’ve done something great.”

The competition was structured to promote innovation; the prompt was released at 8:30am, and students had until 5pm to complete their entry. They were also tasked with preparing a presentation to be shown to a panel of judges, who would evaluate it for a trio of awards categories: an overall award winner, a coding award, and a communication award. Kuchera pointed out that “for the communication award, the students didn’t have to do any coding at all.”

Unlike some other Hackathons that require certain skills or coding languages, Davidson’s event made a point of being accessible to participants of all levels. According to Kuchera, “We wanted to create a challenge that was open-endedenough that people could come, learn something new, and apply it.”

With this level of flexibility, students chose many different ways of approaching the prompt. A team consisting of Aidan Edmonson ‘21, Braden Kronheim ‘21, and Ben Pelczynski ‘22 decided to focus on the college’s admissions data. They used the information that Davidson provides through Inside Davidson to analyze “all the admissions data which considers ethnicity, geography, study-abroad data, female to male ratio and everything like that, and look at how it’s changed over time,” Edmonson explained.

With that information, Edmonson said, their plan was to both “compose all of this into a webpage that will go through and display all of this graphically and visually for people to appreciate” and use machine learning to predict how demographic trends will change in the future.

Another team consisting of Davidson Technology & Innovation (T&I; a rebranding of ITS) employees decided to “[work] on an interactive map of Davidson College.” They were inspired to do so because “currently we just have a 2D version of it where you have to cross-reference a legend,” Ashley Alexander-Lee ‘17, current Cybersecurity and IT Operations Fellow. This design would allow students to “just visit the map and hover over a building and see what it is.” 

The winning team consisted of Marianna Ghirardelli ‘21, Eleni Tsitinidi ‘21, Sarah Hancock ‘21, and Natalie Kucher ‘19, the only all-women team at the competition. Ghirardelli explained that the group decided to “create a resource to kind of explain Davidson and Davidson’s opportunities, especially for women in STEM and sciences.” Their target audience was “high school and college-aged women who are interested in exploring the possibility of a STEM career at Davidson.”

They took a four-pronged approach to the prompt, building a pair of Python apps to share trivia about women in STEM at Davidson, matching students with potential mentors, sharing stories of their own experiences, and building a web app to organize the other three components. While given the time restraints, the project wasn’t completely finished, Ghirardelli and her team hope to continue their work soon.

The Hurt Hub will be taking a greater role on campus this year. Certain classes such as ECO 295 will be held in the space as they analyze Summit Outpost as an example of a microeconomic theory. Dr. Diana Leyva’s psychology seminar on early childhood education will be pitching its own product in conjunction with a local business whose work is based on a theory taught in that seminar.

Hackathon organizers believe that the event furthered the Hurt Hub’s overall goal, which Dr. Laurie Heyer, a computer science professor, the Hurt Hub’s Faculty Director, and co-organizer of the Hackathon, describes as “connecting campus with community, especially our entrepreneurs and industry partners.” 

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