No hacking at Hackathon 2016

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Jasmine Beeman was creating the logo for her team's app called Flash Vote. Photo Credit, Audrey Arellano

Audrey Arellano

Coding and hacking may be what comes to mind when Student Hackathon 2016 is mentioned, however, that is not the case this time. The 2nd annual event was held in the Grand Salon at CSUN from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. Thursday, September 23rd.

The event was produced by The Valley Economic Alliance, a non-profit charitable organization seeking to increase stability and economic vitality within their five-city region including Burbank, Calabasas, Glendale, Los Angeles, and San Fernando. The student turnout doubled since last year’s event.

“Students are so motivated and encouraged, it’s nice to see,” said Angela Amirkhanian, the event coordinator.

Amirkhanian handles all education related events and focuses on the educational initiative at The Valley Economic Alliance.

This time around, the organization wanted to focus on a topic that was relative to the community, such as the presidential elections, and seek ways to engage high school and college students in casting their vote.

This year, students were asked to create a strategy for an app or a website to increase both voter registration and voter turnout for local elections within the five-city region, according to Amirkhanian.

There’s just one catch: students had no idea what the challenge was until they walked into the competition.

“We were looking for students that were interested in two things: the technology side, IT, website design and development, mobile application development in design as well as on the government side,” Amirkhanian said.

The application process for this event is simple. Students check off a list of interests, get accepted, and begin the challenge.

Students from all over the valley come together to form groups and practice teamwork skills that will come in handy in the future.

All groups are asked to narrow down everything they’ve created and provide a five minute PowerPoint presentation of their final pitch for the panel of judges.

Judges were given checklists to fill out during presentations to decipher the winning group. Some of the criteria were based on whether the app or website was functional, if it accomplished the stated goal, how easily understood it was, and whether it was technical.

“An event like this where the students are designing an app or website that will increase voter turnout is something near and dear to the senator’s heart,” said Raj Dhillon, one of the judges who is a representative for Senator Robert M. Hertzberg’s office in Sacramento.

The CSUN alumni said he was very happy about the event and the fact it was hosted by an organization within the district.

Aside from prizes, participants were also given job opportunities by the end of the event.

Amirkhanian took the initiative to ask participants to prepare resumes prior to the Hackathon.

“We don’t just want them to work on the challenge and leave with prizes, I want to create next steps for them,” Amirkhanian said. “Job opportunities have been narrowed down based on their interests,” she said.

Amirkhanian reached out to local colleges for brochures about their campuses and their programs, because keeping students local after they graduate high school is the main goal for the organizer and her team.

Jasmine Beeman, a senior graphic design major who works at MetaLab, has taken classes that force her to work under pressure. She wasn’t fazed by not knowing the challenge until earlier.

“I’m having fun experiencing new things here,” Beeman said.