by Bryan Lindenberger

Middle and high school students from around the region gathered recently at the University of West Georgia’s new biology building for the university’s third annual Hackathon.

Kids at a computerUWG faculty, staff and community volunteers encouraged students to tackle issues faced by persons with disabilities by creating useful, innovative software applications using the MIT App Inventor.

Titled “Coding for a Better Community,” the day-long event attracted over 30 regional middle and high school students to compete in teams for awards in categories such as Computing Excellence, Highest Impact, and Team Spirit.

The annual gathering is held in collaboration by the Department of Computer Sciences at the College of Science and Mathematics (COSM) and the College of Education’s (COE) Fusion Center with generous sponsorship and personal assistance provided by locally based tech company GreenCourt Legal Technologies, LLC.

Directed by Lindsey Robinson, COE Fusion Center supports STEM education through vital collaboration between the COE and COSM in important campus programs and community events.

“With events like Hackathon, we bring students to campus to engage them in creativity, teamwork and communication while honing their skills in coding applications,” Robinson said. “Seeing each kid’s face light up while presenting their final product is an inspiration and a reminder of how these moments shape the future.”

Child at a whiteboardDr. Anja Remshagen, professor of computer science and organizer of the event, also sees the Hackathon as a means to engage young people in discovering the aspirational side of technology.

“Students learn coding skills in a fun and cooperative environment,” Remshagen said. “But they also learn that they can have a positive impact on someone’s quality of life.”

UWG computer science alumna and GreenCourt software engineer Kelsey Lujan assisted and mentored students at the event along with GreenCourt President and Chief Operating Officer Ryan Roenigk.

“We are very fortunate to have the financial means to support this event,” Roenigk said. “But our involvement goes beyond to a personal level. We know the field and can help the students troubleshoot. We know the questions to ask to help guide them. There’s nothing better than to assist young people in learning about technology and the kinds of careers that exist.”

Lujan agrees, finding personal satisfaction in helping young people explore the wide range of career options before them.

“I didn’t know what career paths existed in technology when I was their age,” Lujan said. “We love being here to watch it happen and let the students know that if they enjoy solving these tech problems, a career path exists for them.”

Dr. Anja Remshagen works with a studentWinners of the “Computing Excellence” category Walker Camp, Michael Conley and Gabriel Daggett of Carrollton City Schools – grades 8, 10 and 10 respectively – can attest to the impact the Hackathon can have for students.

The application they designed – entitled Txty – is a sentence builder designed for persons with speech disabilities.

“The app provides over 5200 combinations of words,” explained Conley, who plans to go into aerospace engineering. “These sentences can help those dealing with hearing impairments to communicate and form sentences like ‘I want to eat’ or ‘I need nine dollars.’”

“It was a really great learning experience,” agreed Daggett. With plans to study meteorology, he enjoyed how they worked together as a group, utilizing important communication and delegation skills. “The team work was amazing, and we divided it so that no one was left behind.”

Camp – who plans to major in computer science – agreed that communication was crucial to working together.

“We had to make sure we did not go too far beyond our skill level, and that we implemented what would be the most useful for the project,” Camp said.

Posted on March 15, 2019