Jacob K. Javits Convention Center | 655 W 34th St, New York, NY | June 10-11, 2020
Sharon Lin | StuyHacks
Explanation: My project is StuyHacks, a student-run high school hackathon in downtown Manhattan for local hackers. Essentially, the project is intended for teens and pre-teens interested in STEM and technology, giving them a platform and a safe space where they can experiment outside of societal and academic confines. Too often, students are stuck without options as to where and how they can pursue their passions. By starting our hackathon, I wanted to combat the idea of computer science being a white, male dominated field, as well as the negative connotations given to hackers.
In our hackerspace, as we like to call it, a hacker is anyone who takes apart something that exists to make something better. Our hackathon is a 12-24 hour event on a weekend where teens and mentors (usually industry professionals or college students with more experience in programming) gather in a space to work on projects. These can range from apps to data visualizations to even websites and VR games. The ideas that are born from hackathons are always so innovative, and honestly some of the most rewarding parts of running an event like ours
Furthermore, students are not only given a space where they can work, but they are provided all of the amenities necessary to ensure that their 12-24 hours are spent productively. From arranging music to food to venue space to stable wifi, the planning that comes before delivering a successful hackathon is extensive, but ultimately rewarding, as the smiles and grins of success on each hacker’s face is more than worth the hours put into ensuring that the hackathon runs smoothly.
Often, companies and venues will sponsor hackathons. This serves to help promote the message of these companies – usually large corporations or smaller local startups – as well as to give attendees more insight into what choices are available to them should they choose to pursue a career in the technology work field. From having mentors from these respective companies to even allowing them to speak at the keynote and hold a booth at the event, we are entirely supportive of other companies who are interested in what our hackathon has to offer.
Our hackathon can also be differentiated from other similar events in that we strive to ensure that there is equal gender representation, as well as representation from as many different socioeconomic backgrounds as possible. By doing outreach among schools from inner-city communities, the Bronx, and even communities such as Elizabeth, NJ and New Haven, CT, we were able to reach the entirety of the tri-state area, inspiring students to come from schools that weren’t even in the city. The result was a conglomeration of teams forming for the first time, with a variety of different hackers of different experience levels, all coming together to create over a dozen incredible projects.
Inspiration: I started StuyHacks, an inclusive hackathon for high school students in New York City, featuring a variety of tracks including social good, health, public safety, games, and hardware. We also had a plethora of mentors from various backgrounds, with a nearly 50/50 gender ratio and talks by females in tech on entrepreneurship and presentation skills.
As a member of the hackathon community, there were three large problems I noticed. First, most of the hackathons I’d gone to were geared towards older college students, males, and were generally not beginner friendly. Even the beginner friendly ones often excluded high schoolers (or else the age gap was so apparent that even unconsciously, you felt out of place.) Second, the mentorship was shoddy, and the workshops were often not relevant or else more geared towards promoting companies and software (such as Microsoft’s Azure workshops or Github’s Intro to Git workshops) than skills. Third, the team dynamic and “spirit of hacking” was becoming less and less present within the community. I wanted to reverse this, both by introducing more girls to hackathons, and by bringing hackathons to my local community. Stuyhacks is a push towards equalizing the hackathon ground, starting with high schoolers in the tri-state area and expanding out to include even more students in the near future!
I planned the hackathon from start to end, including all of the food, wifi, venue, space, mentorship, and other technicalities involved with running a large scale event. From contacting over sixty companies in NYC to ask for donations or mentorship to meeting with entrepreneurs and executives on weekends and after school at various meetups to make venue and donation arrangements, I was able to rent out District CoWork as the incredibly spacious venue, as well as raise well over $2000 for the hackathon food and necessary expenses. I also reached out to my networks to recruit judges, eventually securing judges from Google and local startups to help us out at demos. In terms of recruitment and outreach, I formed a small team of seven students from my school to help spread the word about our event. We ended up with over 400 signups online, with students coming from New Jersey, Connecticut, and even Pennsylvania! We had almost 50% turnout, with over 150 students showing up and over a dozen teams successfully presenting at the end of the program.
The teams that did present had a variety of interesting apps, including a period tracker, a neural network, a cloud-based note taking app, a gender neutral game, and many other interesting and innovative ideas.
In terms of continuing StuyHacks, our next iteration is planned for May 28-29. We already have a venue set with Thoughtworks and sponsorship from Squarespace, Github, and a dozen other local companies. We’ve also been helping out newer schools set up their own hackathons, hopefully forming a NYC schools alliance to help each other strengthen our hacking community to be more inclusive and to better embody the hacker ethos.
Focus: Website Design Robotics and Gadgets Stem or Steam Other Hackathon, Technology education, STEM Outreach