MICHAEL WADDELL September 28, 2016.
Ten college students and one high school student put in long hours over the weekend, shredding code in the latest RhodesHacks computer development competition held inside McCallum Ballroom on the Rhodes College campus Sept. 23-24.
The RhodesHacks series was founded to encourage talented students to collaborate and build solutions that can have a very immediate impact on the world. The Rhodes Entrepreneurship Club partnered with City Leadership/Choose901 to host the event, and sponsors included the University of Memphis, Tech 901, ProTech and Start Co.
Rhodes hosted its first hack-a-thon in January, but this time the tasks were much more focused on specific nonprofits’ needs.
“We came up with an idea to make the hack-a-thon meaningful for solving real problems,” said Bud Richey, Rhodes College associate vice president and faculty adviser for the Rhodes Entrepreneurship Club.
Eleven students from Rhodes, Christian Brothers University, LeMoyne-Owen College and the University of Memphis formed teams to develop creative software solutions to critical technical problems faced by two Memphis nonprofit organizations. One was redeveloping the Teach 901 online job board and the other was creating an analytics dashboard for Memphis Athletic Ministries to track things like web traffic and student attendance.
“We’re seeing a deficit in nonprofits’ needs for technology and their ability to afford or really articulate the solutions to those problems,” said City Leadership digital strategist Keith Montgomery, who spends most of his time working with local non-profits on their technology needs. Montgomery served as the liaison between Rhodes and the selected nonprofits.
The students will continue working with the nonprofits to refine the projects for their specific needs.
The hack-a-thon began on Friday night at 8 p.m. and continued over the next 20 hours. Many students napped inside the ballroom while their teammates pressed on through the night. One student stayed awake by washing his face with cold water.
“The students (worked) all night coding and developing, trying to solve a nonprofit’s problems in the best way possible,” said Nick Parinella, senior and business major at Rhodes and president of the Rhodes Entrepreneurship Club.
A team consisting of one Rhodes student, two U of M students and a White Station High School senior – dubbed the Hack Street Boys by one of the event’s judges – won the awards for Best Tech and Best Overall. The LeMoyne-Owen team took home the prize for Best Design and the CBU team won for Best Problem Solving.
“I’ve never really worked with a group of developers before, so it was an interesting dynamic to figure out each person’s strengths and then be able to focus on what I’m really good at,” said U of M student Coby Glass. “So it was a nice learning experience on the group dynamic of coding.”
White Station High School senior Ankush Patel was the only high school student who participated. Due to legal restrictions, he was not allowed to stay overnight.
“I see that events like this one that are time-constrained are very stressful, but you can still push out a great product in this amount of time,” said Patel, who has an interest in artificial intelligence and plans to major in computer science in college. “I learned that it’s better to have experience in a lot of different areas. For me personally, I have never dealt with PHP or WordPress, so for the most part I was just learning.”
Wed development frameworks used for the competition included AngularJS, Ruby on Rails, Django, Laravel, Express with Node.js, Flask, and Spring. Students used Heroku, PythonAnywhere, and Amazon Web Services to deploy their apps to the web.
More RhodesHacks events are likely in the future, as organizers see the hack-a-thons as a great opportunity for students to use their hacking abilities for good, while also competing against other top students to build sleek and meaningful apps.