More than 300 students from around the world gathered virtually for the sixth annual Hoya Hacks, a 36-hour marathon hardware and software design and coding competition.
This year’s hackathon received its largest number of registrants ever as students from 39 countries and more than 50 global institutions, including 62 students from Georgetown, collaborated on innovative technological projects.
Although thousands of miles apart, each participant unified under this year’s theme of hacking to benefit society, including projects addressing environmental justice, news and journalism, data visualization and mental well-being concerns during the pandemic.
“Instead of putting hacking questions or parameters on our students, we have one central idea: Hacking for Social Good,” says Joshua Meredith, senior project manager and staff chair of Hoya Hacks. “As part of our Jesuit tradition, we also really believe in giving back, and we hope that the creation of these projects will aid those in need and help our world.”
Taking on COVID-19 With Technology
Hoya Hacks students developed apps to take on some of the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gratis, developed by Natalia Suska (SFS’22) and her team, addresses homelessness during COVID-19. The safe online platform matches those in need with public “givers” to allocate resources such as food, clothing and shelter based on location and availability.
Jorge Zhang (SFS’23), a first-time Hoya Hacks participant, worked in the “Staying Sane at Home” category. His team’s app, Tessellate, asked users to remember and reflect on meaningful relationships with loved ones.
“The inspiration was a time capsule, where you could come back to the site to remember who was important to you when you put in those people,” says Zhang.
Kathy Gong (C’24) also contributed to the “Staying Sane at Home” category with the app Mood Cheerer, which aims to alleviate stress through music, jokes and motivational sayings when the user is feeling anxious.
In addition to designing and coding projects, Hoya Hacks participants spent their 36 hours listening to featured speakers, networking with industry professionals and competing in social events like online capture the flag and a Bob Ross Microsoft Paint competition.
In a keynote address, Georgetown Communications, Culture, and Technology Program alumnus David McLaughlin (G’01), founder and lead of the Global Developer Ecosystem at Google, advised participants on how to maximize the impact of their tech innovations.
“When you come up with ideas that do have lasting impact on the world, give a thought to how you’re going to sustain it and remember there are lots of different options,” said McLaughlin.
Pulling It All Together
Hoya Hacks is sponsored by Georgetown’s University Information Services and other backers such as Google, Craig Newmark Philanthropies and Verizon.
The virtual hackathon was supported by multiple students in Georgetown’s computer science department, who aided in hosting and running the technological behind-the-scenes of the virtual event.
“Talking with our student organizing team, it was important that Georgetown students had the ability to lead and really show off their skills,” says Meredith. “Our focus for Hoya Hacks 2021 was to provide an environment for students to learn, create and enjoy technology and coding. With everything that has happened globally over the last year, we wanted to allow for an outlet.”
Hoya Hacks 2021 took place via Zoom and Discord January 29-31, 2021.