StockHack Hackathon Prepares Young Comp-Sci Minds for Competitive Careers in Technology Fields

Feb 22, 2017

This weekend Stockton University held its first-ever 24-hour hackathon, called StockHack, in which two local students were on a team that took the second-place prize in the innovation category among the total of 12 teams, comprised of 52 participants. On the national level, hackathons have proliferated in the last 10 years, and some have become a vehicle for companies and financiers to rapidly develop new software and find new talent.

High school and college students from throughout the region took part in the computer science event, which offered challenges in three categories – innovation, design and software– allowing participants to experiment with interface design and software engineering. The winners were from Stockton University, Egg Harbor Township High School and Drexel University.

The second-place prize for the innovation challenge was awarded to Stockton computer science seniors Jeffrey Gibson of Forked River, Justin Weiss of Manahawkin and Stephen Grice of Jobstown. The team created a web app that would allow businesses to market internationally by converting Twitter posts from an input language to various output languages. Users can compose tweets in English, select output languages for conversion and translate a message into those languages while still retaining any original hashtags for tracking and monitoring purposes.

Stockton’s First Lady, Lynne Kesselman, is a former computer technology teacher at Egg Harbor Township High School and founding president of the Southern New Jersey chapter of the Computer Science Teachers Association, which co-sponsored StockHack along with the Stockton Computer Society and Information Technology Services.

“The university is proud of the success of our first ever StockHack event, which offered local students the opportunity to integrate STEAM (science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics) into one original project,” Kesselman said. “Interdisciplinary studies, creativity and collaboration are the future of computer technology education. StockHack incorporated these themes and provided a unique experience for students to carry throughout their future academic careers.”

The event began Saturday afternoon with guest speakers, a scavenger hunt and significant time for collaborative and creative work. The competition ended at noon Sunday, following the presentation of team projects and awarding of prizes. Judges were high school teachers, Stockton faculty, staff, students and community members, according to Chief Information Officer and information dystems adjunct faculty Robert Heinrich.

A team of Drexel and Stockton students, Kevin Garrone, James Girard and Shawn McCall, won the grand prize, 3-D printers, for their team’s innovative original project, an app called “Safe Now.” The app allows users, if feeling unsafe in their environment, to push a button marked “unsafe.” The app then generates and sends an emergency text message to a pre-determined list of contacts, as well as the date, time and user’s location. The winning app maps each time a user selects the “unsafe” button and stores that data on a server. The group hopes to use the information in the future to create heat maps, which could be used to improve tourism and law enforcement.

Garrone, of Egg Harbor Township, first came up with the idea at Drexel University, where he studies software engineering.

“The greatest satisfaction of this competition was the ability to make an idea tangible, especially in the time we did it. Winning the competition has increased my energy to complete my senior design project,” Garrone said. “I’m also really happy to see a hackathon come to this area; it’s cool to see Stockton stepping up to improve the technology branch in South Jersey.”

Egg Harbor Township High School students won in both the design and software challenges. One was a mobile app called “A to B: The Travel Tool,” a convenient, straightforward travel app to book and map public transportation services based on the user’s location. Other standout projects were “DJLite,” a beginner-friendly audio app, and a swim-time converting program that converts swim times from short-course yards into long-course meters.

“We were all so impressed with the students’ projects,” said Demetrios Roubos, Stockton’s assistant director of Information and security, CSIS adjunct faculty and event co-organizer. “There are careers in technology within every field. We wanted to encourage students to explore the intersection of art and science, and the competitors ran with their own, original ideas. We at StockHack are incredibly pleased and proud to be able to provide the next generation with this hands-on experience.”

To see images and video from the StockHack event, search #StockHack on social media platforms and follow Stockton_edu on Snapchat. The university will host another StockHack event Nov. 18 and 19.

— Victoria Ford

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