Enhancing and strengthening the community was the big idea at LancerHacks, the recent hackathon organized by the Saint Francis programming club, sfhacks. From innovating on projects that solve social problems to earning points for meeting new people, the hackathon was the perfect space to think creatively about social causes.
The 12-hour event, in which students worked in teams to create a project using computer programming, was intentionally designed with the school’s Holy Cross theme in mind — celebrating family and cultivating relationships. As such, participants were encouraged to venture beyond their comfort zones by attending a speaker session or engaging with other students.
“The idea is that by leveraging the power of technology, we have the ability to make the world a better place and to benefit our community,” says junior Aishani Aatresh, the lead director of the event.
The hackathon was open to students in grades 8-12, and they came from 45 Bay Area schools. About half the participants were new to coding and hackathons. Some of the projects that emerged included an app that identifies obstacles for the blind and a virtual assistant for students that keeps their search information private.
“We liked that the emphasis was less on business models and making money but rather making a social impact and helping the community.” says Adam Lee, a Saint Francis senior.
He and Saint Francis teammates Patrick Xu and Deepankar Joshi wanted to inspire fellow teens, and so they created “Apptivism,” a website and an app designed to connect youth volunteers to meaningful service opportunities near them. Another Saint Francis participant was sophomore Srihari Nanniyur, who developed “Solidarity,” which aims to promote the integration of refugees in the workplace. This project was named “Best Community Hack,” but for Srihari, much like others recognized at the event (the trio behind “Apptivism” won third place), the spirit of LancerHacks was more about the opportunity to learn and less about winning.
“What matters is making something,” Srihari says.
In addition to scheduled fun activities that give participants a break, there were also speakers – business executives, entrepreneurs and engineers – who offered their perspectives on the many ways we encounter computer science.
“When you’re starting out, it’s hard to see how what you’re learning applies to things you use every day, and the speakers helped make it clearer,” said junior Rithik Jain, tech director of LancerHacks.
Students make time for hackathons to meet industry experts, build new skills and devote time to creating something cool. Whether technology is used to promote consumer privacy or to help minority groups, these students have been inspired to make an impact on the community, one line of code at a time.
“The part that I like the most about computer science is how interdisciplinary its applications are and how powerful it is as a tool to facilitate other things,” says Aishani. “It opens up doors. It’s cool to have the tiniest window into how technology works and think about what we can do to continue the idea of progress and make life better for people.”