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New workshops added to overnight ‘Hackathon’ Nov. 5-6

November 1, 2016

huskie-hack-centerpieceNIU’s Huskie Hack has announced more workshops and presentations for its second annual hackathon contest designed to spark innovation, collaboration and entrepreneurship through the use of computer coding, engineering and technology.

Most of the event––which starts in the Holmes Student Center at noon on Saturday, Nov. 5 and finishes at 2 p.m. on Sunday, Nov. 6––will consist of team-based hacking challenges. But along the way, participants will have numerous opportunities to learn from experts about how hacking applies to professional opportunities, improving the world and the state of our culture. These talks are free and open to the general public, whether or not they are registered for the full hackathon.

“Hacking is the main event,” says Huskie Hack Coordinator Tracy Rogers-Tryba. “But these talks will keep the ideas and excitement flowing all night.”

The full schedule of workshops and presentations is available at

In “The State Farm Mainframe: Past, Present and Future,” two employees of the Illinois-based insurance giant State Farm will talk about the challenges and rewards of putting their creative coding skills to work on the company’s massive mainframe computer, which handles more data than the Library of Congress. One of these presenters, Jeremy Savarese, graduated from NIU’s Computer Science Department just last spring. 

Thomas Pingel, assistant professor in NIU’s Geography Department, will show participants how they can use their computers to contribute to international disaster relief and humanitarian efforts. The OpenStreetMap platform lets users add information to maps that make them as useful as possible for people living and working in areas affected by natural disasters. Pinger will discuss how, by joining the Humanitarian OpenStreetMap Team, people can help save and improve lives around the world. Participation in this workshop will be easiest with a laptop, but possible with a tablet or smartphone.

In “Remix: Hacking the Past to Create the Future,” NIU Professor David Gunkel will explore the rise of remixes––recontextualizations of existing content to make something new and interesting––in contemporary software, music, movies and literature. He will also argue against intellectual property laws that, as he sees it, threaten to shut down this remarkable engine of innovation.

Other workshops include “Wearables: From the Abacus Ring to the Quantified Self” and “LEGO Robotics for the Kid in You.”

Registration is free and open to any college student with a valid ID. College students from Illinois, across the country and Canada have registered. Middle and high school students are also welcome, as long as their parents sign consent forms.

Coding experience is welcome, but by no means required.

After forming teams based on their interests and skill sets, participants will start hacking their ideas into reality. Mentors––including representatives from sponsoring businesses plus NIU faculty, graduate students and alumni––will be on hand to offer guidance to the teams.

“Mentoring gives participants a chance to get acquainted with employers who recognize the value and skill sets that innovation and entrepreneurialism demand: critical thinking, the ability to learn from failure, team building and collaboration,” says Rogers-Tryba. “For some participants, the hackathon also becomes an on-the-spot job fair. For others, it’s a chance to learn about all that NIU has to offer for young innovators.”

At the end of the weekend, each team will present a demonstration of their project. Judges from sponsoring businesses and the public will award prizes.

Huskie Hack is sanctioned by Major League Hacking (MLH), the official international student hackathon league focused on mentorship and support for students engaged in computer coding. In addition to winning prizes, participants will be able to earn points that boost their schools’ standings in MLH rankings.

MLH Co-Founder Jon Gottfried will give a talk exploring the history of hacking and its role in innovation today. 

“This event would not be possible without the avid support of our sponsors: Syndeo, CDK, CDW-G, ALDI, State Farm and Traditional Medicinals,” notes Rogers-Tryba. “Their interest in furthering educational opportunities for student exposure and participation in STEAM-related events is vital to ensuring that students are prepared to enter the workforce with critical thinking skills and computer coding exposure.”

The event is hosted by STEAM Works, a part of NIU’s P-20 Center and DOIT, with help from Tech Bark, an NIU student organization focused on how computers can be used for creative problem solving.

For more information visit or contact Tracy Rogers-Tryba at 779-777-7724 or [email protected].