Nearly 150 students participated in the University’s first Random Hacks of Kindness hackathon, coding for 24 hours straight from Saturday to Sunday morning to formulate solutions to community problems put forth by local organizations and nonprofits in Tompkins County.
At the end of the hackathon, representatives from Accenture, the AFYA Foundation and the Cornell Public Service Center selected three winning teams out of the 25 participating teams, who were eligible to receive $2,000 to $3,000 to execute their proposed solution, according to the Random Hacks of Kindness website.
The hackathon was sponsored by Entrepreneurship at Cornell, which hosts several hackathons a year, according to Tech Events manager Ami Stuart ’10. However, this was Entrepreneurship at Cornell’s first hackathon with an altruistic theme.
“We have several hackathons per year, all at Cornell Tech in New York City,” Stuart said. “Each of our hackathons are ‘themed’ around a topic or field. This is the first time we’ve done ‘Random Hacks of Kindness.’ It was a passion project, something we’ve wanted to do for a long time but knew it would take an extra amount of effort due to the very unique nature of it.”
The hackathon lasted from 11 a.m. Saturday until 11 a.m. Sunday and had a “unique” spirit, according to Kyler Ruvane ’18, a member of the winning team Coding Connectors, who won by designing a new website for the nonprofit Girls Who Code chapter at Cornell.
“The unique thing about this hackathon was that it was all altruistic projects that people were working on,” Ruvane said.
The Cornell Student Assembly and nine local nonprofits presented the teams with at least 12 community problems to choose from on Friday. These issues included collecting and delivering medical surplus supplies, to developing affordable transportation options for people with disabilities and providing mental support for youth and families.
“Nine nonprofits from the community came around pitching their ideas to us. We found what our passion was and went towards that,” said Adam Gleisner ’18, another member of Coding Connectors. “There was one on healthcare. There was the one we did on Girls Who Code. There was one on transportation for disabled people. There were a lot of different areas you could go into and all of them had really cool solutions.”
The Coding Connectors team sought to improve the representation of women in information technology and computer science by working with Women in Computing at Cornell and Accenture to increase the number of girls studying in STEM fields. The team decided to design a website for the new Girls Who Code chapter at Cornell, according to Jerica Huang ’18.
“The issue was to get girls interested in the new club the WICC was forming, so we made an informational homepage, a forum and a social network,” Huang said. “To get them interested there’s this game for onboarding and it introduces them to what coding is.”
Another winning team, Freshman Five, named their project “Momentum,” and designed a new S.A. forum to allow students to directly communicate their problems online, said Siddant Basnet ’19.
“We implemented a Student Assembly forum where Cornell students can sign up and post about their issues. There’s no current website that, does that so we implemented a website where people can go add their things where others can view them and support them,” Basnet said. “The more popular [an issue] gets, the more likes and support it gets, the more likely it will be seen by the Student Assembly and when they resolve it they will post messages saying so.”
Cari Hills ’98 of Accenture, one of the four judges for the competition, said the winning teams were chosen for their innovative solutions, ability to solve business needs and feasibility within a nonprofit budget.
Hills said a third winning team, Rackers Hackers, developed a transportation system known as “Wind & Sun” to focus on transportation issues facing students with disabilities.
“They are working with a group in town that’s focused on people with disabilities. [Wind & Sun] is helping transport them around using an Uber-like model, but in a social way,” Hills said. “You’re getting people who are volunteering their time to drive people around.”
The 25 teams were narrowed down to 10 finalists before the three top winners and two honorable mentions were selected. Nevertheless, Hills said all the projects created by the hackathon participants over the weekend were “incredible” considering their limited time and resources.
“They took their knowledge as students who are aware of the community, limited resources of non-profits and using technology and came up with these solutions to solve incredible business problems,” Hills said. “We were just blown away by what they did.”