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Student Competitions

Santa Clara U Students Code for Humanity

Saturday morning in Silicon Valley dozens and dozens of students settled in to come up with apps to help two organizations serving the poorest people. Santa Clara University's Association for Computing Machinery chapter held its third annual hackathon, "Hack for Humanity." In a hackathon, competitors are allotted a specific amount of time to build a project that fits a given theme.

The 24-hour event brought together participants from area colleges studying not just computer science or engineering but also business, biotech, communications and graphic design. Students worked individually or in teams of four to develop applications for either of two recipients.

One is Catholic Charities, where coders were encouraged to improve one of its many services and programs for "very low income people." For example, the students could come up with apps for improving the organization's existing job skills training, immigration test training or nutrition information programs.

The other is VillageTech, a company that has created Looma, a low-power, affordable portable computer and projector box for classroom use in schools in developing countries. There, the hackers are supposed to come up with apps for use by students in Nepal, such as creating a content management and navigation system, to build an on-screen keyboard, to add to the maps available for Looma, to improve the speech capability, to create a tool for managing the webcam and related functions.

Students donate the code they write, which is often at a prototype level, to the university, which in turn donates it to the nonprofit interested in deploying it. Judges rate the projects on criteria such as user interface, functionality and level of difficulty. This year's prize was $1,000.

"I am always impressed by what these students can do in 24 hours," said Silvia Figueira, director of Santa Clara U's Frugal Innovation Hub, in a press release. "It is incredible to see the energy and excitement in the room when the hackathon starts. Being able to use their computing skills to help an underserved community is an amazing experience for the students."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.

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