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Tech4All achieves just that

(Calli Storrs) Tech4All invited students from multiple disciplines to participate in the Hackathon.
(Calli Storrs)
Tech4All invited students from multiple disciplines to participate in the Hackathon.

After about twelve hours of planning, designing and preparing, three teams — The Cassandra Institute, S2S and History News Network — participating in theTech4All hackathon got ready to present their projects to their peers and the judges.

The Hackathon on Saturday, April 2, was created as an inclusive space for interdisciplinary collaboration, and it achieved its goal.

The idea for the hackathon started when Mills computer science student Rachel Kawula brought it up with her friend and fellow Mills student Faye Cheng about three months ago.

“This is Rachel’s brain-child,” Cheng said. “We worked together to make it happen.”

Kawula wanted to start an interdisciplinary hackathon, or a space for people of all disciplines and areas of study, to come together and collaborate on a technology related idea. It came as a response to combat the incredibly male-dominated technology field and to provide a fun place to create a project with people of diverse backgrounds and futures. Kawula also wanted a hackathon that did not require time, money or resources to access.

“A lot of hackathons have this reputation of being an aggressive “brogrammer” space,” Kawula said. “We named it Tech4All because even the word hackathon has been associated with a male-dominated aggressive space, and we were looking for a way to bring more people, especially more under-represented groups.”

From 8 a.m. to 9:30 p.m., the three groups worked away at their respective projects. Each group had a problem they decided upon and had to provide a solution for, presenting it that evening. The theme was how technology fit with “Past. Present. Future.”

The Cassandra Institute tackled the problem of having a buildup of old electrical appliances, offering “technology longevity” by helping people re-purpose, recycle and re-wire their old appliances to create something new.

Student to Student (S2S) attacked the issue of financially illiterate students and provided a lending circle with a model of a desktop platform and mobile platform to help with student debt. Each person puts a set amount of money in the “pot” each month, or set amount of time, and the pot goes to a different person each month. It was designed to help build good credit for students who do not know a lot about how to manage their finances. 

(Calli Storrs) S2S (above) did their presentation on teaching financially illiterate students about finance.
(Calli Storrs)
S2S (above) did their presentation on teaching financially illiterate students about finance.

The History News Network (HNN) would publish articles from decades ago to bridge the experiential gap between generations. Their website would republish stories that were published in print decades ago, with a breaking news section, as well as games for kids.

Only the Cassandra Institute did any programming while S2S and HNN worked on mock-ups of their desktop and mobile platforms. All three provided presentations when they unveiled their work to one another.

“Really if you want to go anywhere in technology, you have to know how to talk to people; you have to know how to work with people,” Kawula said.

Noah Nash, part of S2S, liked how fast his group narrowed down the particular problem they were going to work on. In general, the consensus from S2S was that the day went by quickly although they spent over 12 hours working on their project. Another member, Marissa Miller, found that the experience fulfilled what Kawula was hoping for.

“[There was] really, really positive collaboration,” Miller said.

Juliana Hoch, part of HNN, liked the camaraderie and experience she learned about mock ups. “I thought it was spectacular,” she said.

Susan Wang, professor of the Computer Science and Interdisciplinary Computer Science Program Head, and Dan Ryan, associate professor of sociology, judged Tech4All. They awarded HNN with the Best Technical Demonstration Award, while the Cassandra Institute and S2S tied for the Interdisciplinary Award.

Both Wang and Ryan were impressed with the event. Wang loved the enthusiastic participation, while Ryan wanted to go and brag about it to his colleagues.

“This is the kind of event that makes me happy to be at Mills,” Ryan said.

Kawula hopes to make this an annual event, but as she is graduating, she is looking to find a way to keep it going.