Hampshire College to host first annual hackathon


(Robert Rigo/Amherst Wire)

On Friday, Feb. 26, Hampshire College will host its first annual Hamp Hack, an interdisciplinary hackathon for the Five Colleges.

The 24-hour hackathon will start at 4 p.m. in Franklin Patterson Hall at Hampshire and end on Saturday night. Out of an estimated 500 applicants, 200-250 will be picked to compete on a first-come, first-served basis.

Hamp Hack was organized in mid-October by Hampshire first-year Nirman Dave, who developed the idea after participating in a hackathon in India. Dave hopes to make Hamp Hack an annual event, bringing current students and alumni together. He currently owns his own start-up company called CircuiTricks, which supplies students with basic engineering kits and aims to empower children, encourage creativity, and push the boundaries of universal thinking.

Adrianna Perry, fourth-year student at Hampshire, oversees press engagement for the team and explained that, though this event is categorized as a “hackathon,” it’s nontraditional.

There will be four competitive categories at the hackathon: environmental sustainability, brain and cognitive, life hacks, and artificial intelligence. Teams of one to four people will decide which category fits their products best and judges will assess them accordingly.

Rather than focus on computer coding, the hackathon will allow competitors to fully develop any ideas they want, as long as they can create some sort of formal prototype.

“The vibe of the hackathon is still there. People are encouraged to work throughout the night,” Perry said. “But for better or for worse, Hampshire prides itself on doing things that people don’t usually question, differently. Calling it ‘Hampshire Hackathon’ means that we’re doing a hackathon the Hampshire way.”

Dhrithi Narasimhan, a junior at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, joined the outreach team after working on TEDxAmherst with Perry. Narasimhan said that she’s been to hackathons before, mainly to watch friends compete. But this, she said with excitement, will be different.

“Hamp Hack is different because they’ve opened it up to more fields,” she said. “It’s usually software-based things, but with this one you can make projects in art and design. I’m used to seeing engineering projects, so it’ll be cool to see what people come up with.”

According to Narasimhan, participants don’t have to have a certain skill level in order to compete; all are welcome. The outreach team, however, is hoping teams are diverse and feature different people with a range of skills, explained Perry. Though most participants are students or recent graduates from the Five Colleges, some will come from Boston to compete.

Narasimhan and Perry both said that local start-ups and other companies will sponsor the event, donating tools to help participants craft their products. Teams will be able to use gadgets such as Oculus glasses and Smart Pebble watches when developing their prototypes.

“People will be using all kinds of electronics, like things that we find in video games,” said Perry. “People will be using video recorders, computers, codes, lasers, things like that. These are just some of the products we will offer people the chance to utilize,” she said.

Mentors, including alumni, will walk around the event to help teams develop their products. If at first some teams are unsure of what their product even is, they can visit the “idea jam,” an hour-long workshop designed to help develop ideas.

“[Idea jam] is the place where you go when you’re not sure what your idea is. People can still register, and even if they don’t have a design, tech or engineering… they can still go [to Idea jam] and participate in the entire event,” Perry said.

Participants are encouraged to attend these workshops and are welcome to leave at any time to start working on their designs.

“I’m really, really looking forward to seeing what happens when people who don’t know each other or don’t see each other on campus- people from different colleges- come together,” said Perry. “I’m interested to see their different perspectives and what those different viewpoints create.”

Winners of the hackathon will receive a range of prizes, like an Amazon Echo.

Doors open at 4 p.m. and entrance is free for both participants and guests.

Email Katie Bowler at [email protected].

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