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Hackathon draws students from around the region and around the world

By Fran Broderick

On April 26th, Women in Computing (WiC), a Golisano College organization dedicated to engaging more female students in the various fields of computing, hosted their first ever WiC Hackathon, as part of the International Women’s Hackathon. WiC Hacks, which was organized by freshman event chair and founder Veronica Wharton and Women in Computing Director Lana Verschage drew more than 70 participants ranging in age from high school to current RIT students.

“On the surface WiCHacks was a competition with twelve teams competing for ten awards,” explained Wharton. “But probably more important than the competition itself was getting women involved in technology – introducing them to other women their age who are interested in computing, whether in high school or in college, as well as introducing them to women in industry and academia who can inspire these girls to pursue technology themselves.”

In addition to the teams present for the hackathon at RIT’s Student Innovation Hall were students participating abroad at RIT’s Kosovo campus. Event sponsor Cisco provided organizers with a video collaboration system  that used Blue Jeans technology to facilitate contact between the two locations. Participants had the option of electing to participate in a “newbie” track designed to introduce first-timers to programming, while more seasoned participants were able to attend workshops from sponsors that included Constant Contact, Intuit, Apple and Google. Following these workshops attendees began working together to compete in various categories that included “Most Innovative,” “Best UI Design” and “International Women’s Hackathon Awards #1 and #2” which were awards designated for participants whose app addressed either “Teens and Distracted Driving” (#1) or “Encouraging More Women in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM)” (#2).

In total, approximately 2,500 women in 11 countries participated in the International Women’s Hackathon, with the flagship event being held in Washington, DC at the USA Science and Engineering Festival. “[WiC Hacks has] provided such an opportunity for our local girls to get involved in computing,” said Nancy Pickering, a parent of an area high-schooler who attended the event. “We are spreading the word within our school district and I hope to send lots of young ladies to the next hackathon.” Pickering’s daughter participated on a team that created an app called “Virtual Outdoors.”

“We are still getting “love notes” from the teams and we couldn’t be happier,” said Aliza Carpio from event sponsor Intuit. In addition to presenting a workshop, employees from Intuit and other sponsor companies, including Apple and Google, were available to mentor students throughout the competition. Intuit worked with four of the winning teams.

WiC Director Lana Verschage also recognized male volunteers who participated by helping out throughout the day:  “We had some really great male volunteers that pitched in all day and stayed until we had completely cleaned up.”

Wharton described the event as “wildly successful” in its efforts to engage young women in computing, and plans are in place to host the event annually.

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