This year, the University of Rhode Island will be hosting a hackathon focusing on water quality issues and developing solutions to educating the public on their water supply. URI has been hosting hackathons every year put on by the Startup Program/Accelerator/ Resource Center (SPARC). This group helps startups and entrepreneurs easily access resources to further develop their ideas. In the past, most of the hackathons held were relating to health and wellness.
Hackathons are a way to bring students from URI and other colleges in the area together to activate their ideas and develop them into solutions to appease a given topic, said Deedee Chatham, who works extensively with SPARC and worked to organize this event.
The purpose of this event is to award a monetary prize to the group with the best solution on whatever topic they chose to focus on. Groups have a chance at winning $1,000 for first place, $500 for second and $250 for third place.
“Water is a pretty universal topic; it’s necessary for human life, so people care about the quality of their water,” said Chatham.
She continued by saying that this hackathon is meant to see how students develop solutions that empower residents to gain more confidence and understanding of their water supply.
One student in particular, Max Bliss, found out about this event from his professor, Vinka Craver. Bliss, a sophomore at URI, said that “being himself, he recognized the importance of water in the future, especially as it becomes more scarce.”
Bliss believes that “coming up with solutions to water issues is definitely a very important need for our future,” and that “this (event) is just an embodiment of that idea.”
The Hackathon will happen during the weekend of March 2-4. It will be a non-stop event of brainstorming and networking. It starts Friday night, when students show up at 6 p.m. at Robert L. Carothers Library & Learning Commons in the active learning classroom. A group of people will be there to pose a set of three questions for students to do three different “speed storming” events.
“Speed storming” is a combination of speed dating and brainstorming. Students will be encouraged to move around during each of the setups to meet new people so they will have worked with different people every time. After this, dinner is provided for the participants and they are free to network with their peers. They also get to go into the makerspace and see what technology will be available to them for the weekend. By the end of Friday night, all teams should be formed.
Saturday is when the students get hacking. Around 10 a.m. the mentors and subject matter experts show up who are there to help guide the students in their ideas. They will be introduced with their area of expertise so students know who they can go to for particular questions. One keynote speaker attending is Macky McCleary, the administrator for the Rhode Island Division of Public Utilities and Carriers. Groups will be working all day, taking breaks for meals and recaps. Participants can continue to work for as long as they want, as the library will have extended hours for the event that day.
Sunday morning SPARC will bring in coaches to help groups refine their pitches. At Avedisian Hall, groups are expected to make a PowerPoint presentation addressing the solution they came up with over the weekend. The groups are allotted five minutes to pitch to a panel of judges and then a decision is made rather quickly. This part of the event is open to the public. The awards are next, followed by the final reception.
It is at the final reception where people are encouraged to talk and make connections with the mentors and judges. Most experts who come to the event are interested in getting to know the students. Interestingly, some mentors are recent URI graduates working for companies in the area and come to network with the students.
Both Bliss and Chatham wanted to stress how this event is open to everyone. You do not need an extensive background in environmental issues to succeed. As Chatham says, “no matter what you’re majoring in, there’s a spot for you at this hackathon,”
To register, go to web.uri.edu/hackathon.