Reverting to a virtual environment may have affected the number of participants, but it did not deter the talent and creativity of the college students taking part in the sixth annual MTSU Computer Science Department's HackMT.
Jacob Cuomo and Emily Nguyen were teammates on the first-place team that created an app to help family members keep track of chores, and as a bonus, they were each chosen to receive $2,500 scholarships provided by primary sponsor L3Harris to help wrap up the event, held virtually Friday through Sunday, Jan. 29-31.
The hackathon brings software developers, visual designers, programmers and computer science and computer information systems students from universities together to collaborate while inventing new web platforms, games, mobile apps and electronic gadgets.
This year, because of MTSU, state and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention protocols, they participated online from dorm rooms or home study areas.
Cuomo and Nguyen's Team 2 emerged the overall winner with The Fam App for mobile devices. Team members included MTSU's Nathan Igot, William Lucas, Adam Rhodes, Austin Fine, Daniel Wiseman and Joshua Cox, and Anuj Choudhary of Sheridan College in Ontario, Canada.
“We thought we would get third place,” said Cuomo, 21, a junior computer science major from Franklin, Tennessee, who is minoring in math and data science. “We worked really hard. Normally, we stop and play games at other hackathons, but we stayed up the entire time. It went smoothly.”
One team member's computer crashed, though his data was saved “and there was a lot of cohesion and a feeling of community (despite COVID-19),” Cuomo said. “Virtually, it was easy to be distracted.”
Nguyen, 22, of Jackson, Tennessee, a junior computer science major, math and business administration minor and transfer from Jackson State Community College, attended church and was heading to Nashville, Tennessee, for a church-related family event when she heard the team had won.
“I cried in my car,” Nguyen said. “I couldn't believe it. Everyone was nervous. We wanted to be first place. All of us came with different skills. We were dedicated. We kept in touch. I'm really grateful I picked this team. They are really talented … and funny and energetic. I learned a lot from them.”
Winning the scholarship also was a surprise for Nguyen, who admitted to being “so grateful” for earning it from L3Harris. “It will be a big source of motivation, and keep up my passion for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).” She might use the money to buy books L3Harris mentors recommended or pay for additional Coursera courses she has begun taking to help her expand her knowledge.
Cuomo said he, too, was “thankful” he was selected and will use the scholarship funds for tuition or to pay student loans. He added that attending one of L3Harris's fireside chats during the event may have helped. “They may have seen my leadership and organizing (skills), and everything came together nicely,” he added.
Todd Harris, human resources manager with L3Harris, said HackMT “is a great event from our point of view because it allows the students to take their classroom learning and put it into practice in developing an actual product or project. Congratulations to all you students who participated over the last 36 hours and getting the experience. … Use this as a learning experience to put it together for your resume, talking to employers and putting it into practice in your classrooms.”
Other sponsors included Asurion, Bondware Web Solutions, CAT Financial, Doppler, Technology Advice and UBS.
Other winners/Hacker's Choice Award
• Team No. 1, which created “FurnitureNet,” earned second place. The team included MTSU's James Scruggs, Sam Hollingsworth, Cody Maness, Girgis Shihataa, Alex Belina and Emily Bridgers, and Robert Smith with SERVPRO.
• Team No. 20 took third place and captured the Hacker's Choice Award with its “You Kitten Me: A Purr-ference Quiz.” Team members included MTSU students Marie McCord, Gage Richardson, Biz Duff, Erica Truxton and Alex Silavong.
To learn more about HackMT and MTSU's Computer Science Department, go here. It is one of 11 College of Basic and Applied Sciences departments.