2019 Huskie Hack helps high schoolers and Huskie mentors harness the power of technology to change the world

The Huskie Hack – NIU’s annual 24-hour hackathon – is being revamped this year. The revitalized hack now offers more opportunities for NIU student mentors to gain project management experience as they work with teams of high school students who are harnessing the power of today’s technology to make positive change in the world.

The Hack, which will take place on Saturday, Feb. 23 – Sunday, Feb. 24, in the Holmes Student Center, brings together aspiring computer coders, social activists and designers. Team members will collaborate to develop original tech solutions to pressing problems affecting young people today.

Participants in the fall 2017 Huskie Hack developed tech solutions to health and wellness challenges.

“The hackathon is a great opportunity for NIU students to give back to the community and expand their own skill set,” says Kate Powers, a STEM educator for NIU STEAM and the Hack organizer. Powers says the Hack particularly needs student mentors with expertise in computer coding, design or social activism. Each mentor will be paired with a high school team for the full 24-hour period.

“The new format is really designed to act as a unique educational opportunity for the students,” says Powers. “The high school students will get experience working hands on with real problems that affect them, and they will realize how powerful their voice and skills can be. The university students will get the experience of being a mentor, really a mini-project manager, of an interdisciplinary project.”

“We’re also seeking graduate students, faculty and local professionals to serve as experts during the Hack,” Powers says. “The experts will sign up for four-hour shifts and will be on hand to answer questions and help students brainstorm or troubleshoot.”

NIU students, faculty, community members or alumni who would like to volunteer for the Hack should visit Go.niu.edu/HuskieHack and click on “Help Our Hackers” to register.

What is a hackathon, anyway? “A hackathon is an event with many variations,” says Powers, “but it is usually a multi-day event that brings together computer enthusiasts, programmers, coders, designers and subject matter experts to quickly design a software solution to a stated problem.” Hackathons offer an educational opportunity for students to get hands-on experience designing software while working with teammates from various backgrounds. After the set time, the teams present their hacks to a panel of judges, and the best hacks are awarded prizes.

This year’s social-activism challenges will ask students to develop tech solutions to pressing problems affecting young people in today’s world. The challenge details will be released during the week leading up to the Hack.

“Hacks are great incubators of skills, ideas and creativity,” Powers says. “I’m excited for students to feel empowered and inspired by their teammates and their own ability to hack a solution to a real problem in their world.”

The student participants will have a chance to practice hands-on software development, work with large data sets, network with representatives from companies who hire computer coders, and meet college students who study computer science, design and technology. They’ll also be able to attend workshops on various aspects of computer programming and social activism related to the Hack theme.

But the 24 hours won’t be all work! “We’ll have a fun activities room for students (and adults) to kick back in,” Powers says. “We’ll have board games, arcade games, a video game corner, an escape room and Sunday morning cartoons with cereal (my goal is to have cereal in every color of the rainbow and chock full of marshmallows and chocolate chunks). It should be fun for the students, mentors and experts!”

With questions or to register, visit Go.niu.edu/HuskieHack.

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