Eight Clark University students won spots to compete in WHACK, a 36-hour hackathon held Nov. 2-4 at Wellesley College, with several netting top prizes. The competition drew 300 college students from throughout the Northeast.
Six of the students were participating in their first hackathon, but the competition was nothing new for Abdur Rahman Muhammad ’20 and Evan Hoffman ’21. In September, Muhammad won a top prize at HackMIT. A few weeks later, Hoffman netted a Microsoft-sponsored prize at HackHarvard.
At Wellesley, the eight students spanned three teams to produce apps focused on some of the world’s toughest issues, from climate change to mental health. The event included workshops, speakers from the technology industry, and recruiters from various companies.
The first team included sophomores Hoffman, Akhmadjon Kurbanov, and Sam Rubel. The three computer science majors collaborated to produce EcoPath, which provides commuters with the most carbon-neutral paths to their destinations.
In addition to its environmental focus, the app incentivizes people to “go green” by promoting their good deeds via social media, Hoffman says.
“People really care about how they look online. With our app, when you take any route, you gain points,” says Hoffman, who also is majoring in global environmental studies. “The cleaner your route, the more points you accumulate. You can compare your own scores with those of your friends, and share them across all social media platforms.”
The judges recognized EcoPath team members for their exemplary creation of location-based software, awarding them a prize for Best Use of Here.com’s application programming interface.
The second team included Muhammad, a computer science major, and Naomi Geffken ’21, a double major in political science and economics, along with two first-year students from Boston University and Northeastern University.
They created an Android app called E-Mission, which provides a cost analysis of electric cars. The app appeals to users’ environmental consciousness and to their penny-pinching habits by calculating how much they might save in dollars and carbon emissions if they use electric transport.
The E-Mission team won prizes for MassCEC Best Clean Transportation Hack and for Best Use of Google Cloud Platform.
“Hackathons are a great experience to interact with different companies,” says Muhammad, who won a top prize at HackMIT in September. At Wellesley, he interviewed with a top financial firm and connected with two technology companies.
Geffken networked with several companies and says she also benefited from connecting with other students.
“I learned to work collaboratively with my team even though none of us knew each other before that weekend,” she says. “By the end of the weekend, we wanted to go to other hackathons to collaborate again. The connections made, skills learned, and collaboration practiced will help me with my post-college goals.”
The third team comprised three sophomores, all computer science majors at Clark — Daria Manea, Alan Ruan, and Faustina Owusu — and a student from Wellesley College. They created Mood, an app that allows users with mental health issues to share their experiences anonymously with each other.
“This app is completely anonymous and is meant to help decrease suicide rates by allowing people to find an outlet if they cannot find it anywhere else,” says Owusu, who is minoring in mathematics. “My role was to design the app to make it inviting and simple so users do not feel overwhelmed when using it.”
The students noted how Li Han, professor and chair of the Mathematics and Computer Science Department, has been instrumental in supporting them.
“Her rigorous and tough curriculum equipped me for coding and meeting potential employers at the hackathon,” Owusu says. “Professor Han dedicated her free time to drive us to and from the hackathon. If she did not do that, I would not have gotten the chance to attend such an amazing event.”
For Owusu, the hackathon provided the experience and skills she’ll need after graduation.
“When going into your career as a computer scientist, you are given a project, a team, and the equipment needed to create the project, in addition to some background information and a presentation given at the end of your project,” she says. “In this hackathon, you have to do all of those things, and you gain not only experience but knowledge on how to build and design apps. It even tests your interpersonal skills and how you effectively communicate your project with others.”