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Markkula Center for Applied Ethics

Bringing "Hack for Humanity" to Students’ Homes

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Lessons Learned And Innovative Solutions as a Hackathon Goes Virtual

Tiana Nguyen

Tiana Nguyen ‘21 was a Hackworth Fellow at the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics in 2019-20. She is majoring in Computer Science and is the Hackathon Coordinator of Santa Clara University’s Association for Computing Machinery (ACM) chapter, which is one of the organizers of the annual Hack for Humanity hackathon.

Learning from home and isolating ourselves from others has been tough on just about everyone this past year. Each individual has had different living and personal circumstances, yet all have been expected to perform the same and just as well. We have had less social interaction, and more social issues continuously surfacing. This is why it was especially important to hold Hack for Humanity this year. Not only have there been more and more social issues to solve and help others with, but there has also been a deep need to connect and bring individuals together. With that being said, I believe that Hack for Humanity 2021 was able to deliver on that goal and was, overall, a success.

Santa Clara University's eighth annual humanitarian hackathon, Hack for Humanity, was held on February 20-21 and was completely virtual, as we brought the hackathon magic straight to students’ doorsteps. With the transition of turning this large scale typically in-person event into a virtual one, we’ve had to make many shifts and implement new ideas in order to continue keeping students engaged and working on a project for social good. And through every step and new implementation, we’ve been able to embrace and take advantage of this new online format. Ultimately, it was technology that enabled this hackathon, which then allowed individuals to come together and develop more technology to enable the future.

This year, we had over 150 students join us Saturday morning to kick off the hackathon along with many sponsors and mentors. By Sunday morning, we had 30 projects created for social good. Throughout these 24 hours, because participants were not able to physically see each other, we planned interactive events to allow students to showcase each other’s projects as well as to take fun breaks—even at 3AM. Although it was admittedly easy for students to “leave” the hackathon this year since it was held online and their beds were most likely in close proximity, the engagement we got truly demonstrates how important these issues are to students and how critical it was to solve them together.

There were many social issues that students worked to help address. What made these projects even more special was the amount of thought put into the project ideation phase. During our Opening Keynote, we asked teams to not only think about the social issues they could potentially solve over the weekend, but also think about the ethical implications of their projects. Furthermore, prior to the hackathon we encouraged participants to attend the Markkula Center’s online event titled “Ethics in Computer Science: Why Good Intentions Are Not Enough.” This allowed many students to analyze their projects and keep an ethical framework in mind during the development of their application.

In the end, it was incredible to see students develop a multitude of creative solutions to social problems, such as an application to eliminate the lack of accessibility in COVID-19 vaccination appointments, websites to help individuals released from prison navigate through the complicated process of obtaining ID documents, and applications to better support local and small businesses. After hours of presentations and deliberation, we announced the following teams as our Hack for Humanity Grand Prize Winners:

H4H Grand Prize First Place: VaxTrax

H4H Grand Prize Second Place: ASL Vision 

H4H Grand Prize Third Place: California Re-Entry ID Tool

You can find all of the projects showcased on our Hack for Humanity 2021 Devpost.

While the pandemic has left behind a trail of struggles and devastation, it has also left us with many valuable lessons. But most importantly, if this outbreak has taught us anything, it’s to open our hearts and work together to help each other get through these difficult times. And we are glad that Hack for Humanity 2021 provided an opportunity for individuals to do exactly that.

Mar 3, 2021

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