9th annual hackathon engages students, alumni and community while supporting women in tech

by | Apr 17, 2023

The event was organized through the Department of Information Systems and Technology and sponsored by Slalom Consulting, Spry Digital and SyllogisTeks.
Three woman stand in front of a slide demonstration of their product, a website called ELMO.

From left, Enjolic Combs, Divine Akinjiyan and Alina Nguyen formed The Tech Goddesses and took first prize at the Women’s Hackathon, which took place on April 15 to celebrate women in tech.

On a dark and rainy Saturday morning, University of Missouri–St. Louis students and community members broke into competitive teams in the UMSL Accelerate Building and began “hacking” away at a computer problem statement.

They were participating in the ninth annual hackathon, organized through the Department of Information Systems and Technology and sponsored by Slalom Consulting, Spry Digital and SyllogisTeks. This year’s event was meant to highlight women in technology, and Kerrine Nelson, an alumna who received her BS in information systems and technology at UMSL, served as the keynote speaker.

For eight hours, five teams, equipped with drinks and snacks, tackled the “Life After College” theme that called upon them to develop and hack through solutions to help students lead effective post-graduation lives. A panel of computer science professionals and alumni judged their work.

Damon Walker, an assistant teaching professor in information systems and technology, gave his class freedom to construct the hackathon the way they wanted.

“I wanted students to enjoy themselves and understand that there is a space for women in tech,” he said. “We want to make sure we are constantly creating and extending that space to women so they feel comfortable stepping into different fields related to tech.”

Professor Dinesh Mirchandani, the chair of the Department of Information and Systems Technology, believes the event has a multitude of benefits for students.

“It helps us attract more underrepresented populations into the field, and for the students, it is an opportunity to showcase that talent,” he said. “It’s something we hope they will utilize on their resumes that they can talk about in interviews. It’s something that they can be proud of their entire lives.

“For the students organizing, it develops their leadership potential. It helps them understand how we make decisions on the constraints, how we solve a problem, how we can visualize an activity and do all the little things to make it happen. So it’s really the communication, the planning and the logistics. It’s a perfect project for the students to put together, enhance their own skills and help others learn as well as learn themselves.”

Chancellor Kristin Sobolik attended the event and thought it was empowering for women in tech and those who support gender-diversity in the industry.

“What I love about the Women’s Hackathon – and Damon Walker is the one who said this – is this is a community to support women in tech, but it’s not just for women,” Sobolik said. “It’s also for anybody that wants to be an ally, to really support women and their advancement in the tech industry.”

Teams were tucked away in different rooms in the UMSL Accelerate building, mapping out their ideas and presentations.

During the lunch break, students were given a presentation by Ian Wickline, an adjunct faculty member in information systems and a senior trainer at UiPath, a company that develops business automation platforms.

At the end of the day, five judges awarded three teams with the top prizes in the form of Amazon gift cards.

Opossum Systems took third place for their website that offers tools to help with resume building, interview skills, including mock interviews and even visa assistance for international students. There was also a mental health component that connects graduates to counseling services.

The Recruitables, who developed a platform that assists new graduates with resume building, communication and interview skills and offers other resources took second place.

The Tech Goddesses won first prize for their digital platform, ELMO, that measures and helps users hone their emotional intelligence abilities to perform better in interviews and at jobs.

Divine Akinjiyan, a senior majoring in computer science, slated to graduate next month, led the group’s presentation and thought the event was a great team builder experience.

“We worked really well as a team,” she said. “I think that was very visible to the judges. We were able to be cohesive with our idea and actually turn it to something. I think it was really good, and we all feel really happy and proud. We had so much fun.”

Alina Nguyen, also senior who is majoring in computer science with a minor in math had a very positive experience at the hackathon. She felt it was a great networking opportunity to meet other women in tech and to test her technical skills as well as her soft skill knowledge.

Community members also had a chance to display their tech skills and talents.

Enjolic Combs, one of the Tech Goddesses, is not a student at UMSL but decided to participate in the event after hearing about it from a friend. Combs actually kickstarted her team’s winning idea by coming up with the theme of emotional intelligence.

“I just basically attended the hackathon to get more knowledge in the tech field to make sure if this is the route that I want to take,” she said.

The night ended after waiting out a tornado warning, with Mirchandani congratulating all the participants, sponsors and attendees. He felt the event offered multiple positive outcomes.

“It develops students,” he said, “helps them get jobs and it creates community.”

Wendy Todd

Wendy Todd