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CSUMB Hackathon 2016: Games solve community problems

By Jan Janes
Special to Santa Cruz Tech Beat

November 10, 2016 — Seaside, CA

(Photo above: After presenting their projects, 2016 CSUMB Hackathon faculty, mentors and students celebrate before hearing the judges’ results. All photo credits: Jan Janes Media)

Students from Cabrillo, Gavilan and Hartnell Colleges formed teams this year.

Year five of the CSUMB Hackathon at the Seaside campus last weekend opened to double participation, as 70 students formed 14 teams to solve community issues. New to the format, students were to create games.

They addressed problems as diverse as mapping the CSUMB campus, student hunger, youth financial literacy, youth transitioning out of foster care and diverting recyclable materials away from oceans and waterways.

Pizza, snacks and soda

Throughout the weekend, students were fueled with meals, snacks and drinks to keep them alert. Teams formed based on student interest across a dozen community issues, including mapping the CSUMB campus, student hunger, youth financial literacy, youth transitioning out of foster care and diverting recyclable materials away from oceans and waterways. Many students met for the first time Friday evening. Though many were first timers to the hackathon environment, the desire to create change through technology was universal. Students from Cabrillo, Gavilan and Hartnell Colleges formed teams this year.

Each team developed a game using a variety of programming languages. Students conducted extensive research about their topics to incorporate factual, contextual information into the games.

Students participating in the immersive event were well fed throughout the weekend. Classrooms on two floors of the iiED building were dedicated for the weekend push.

Whiteboards, windows, white pads

NULL Constructor team members Daniel Crews, Jason Kirn, Phuc Pham, Nigel Hardy and Tyler Chargin, ready to demonstrate their game to build environmental sustainability. (Credits: Jan Janes Media)

NULL Constructor team members Daniel Crews, Jason Kirn, Phuc Pham, Nigel Hardy and Tyler Chargin, ready to demonstrate their game to build environmental sustainability.

Colorful notes, trees, sketches and diagrams sprouted in every area as students debated workflow paths. Mentors were available to all teams from Friday evening through Sunday at noon.

Mentor David Seagal, a computer science instructor at Monterey Peninsula College with a gaming background, answered design and technical questions throughout the weekend. “A recurring theme is initial design that is too grandiose,” he said, stressing the importance to resist feature creep during the weekend development time frame.

Students assembled their display tables on Sunday, and each of the four judges visited every project to experience the game firsthand. Points were awarded based on the immersive virtual environment, engagement of the user, how well the game addressed the community problem, the completeness, the playability and interactive attributes, and instructions for playing the game.

Judging entries for the CSUMB Hackathon were Bude Su, CSUMB School of Computing and Design (SCD) department chair, Miguel Lara, CSUMB faculty with SCD, John Derrick, CEO with Appery.io and Erik Uppman, marketing director with Cannery Row Company in Monterey.

Dr. Eric Tao, a professor with CSUMB’s School of Computing & Design since 1998, was Uppman’s mentor during his CSUMB studies. Uppman returned to support the student work this past weekend. One project, “Breaking the Cycle” required research to understand the challenges surviving the foster care environment into adulthood.

“The game stressed the importance of using technology to literally place people in the world,” said Uppman. “You wouldn’t think to use a game to demonstrate the foster care experience, and immerse yourself in a scenario that is someone else’s reality.”

Happiness meters, pegging game level difficulty

Garrett Tibbetts (center) walks Judge Bude Su, CSUMB SCD department chair, through the "Otter Tour" campus navigation game while Monique La Croix looks on.

Garrett Tibbetts (center) walks Judge Bude Su, CSUMB SCD department chair, through the “Otter Tour” campus navigation game while Monique La Croix looks on.

A financial literacy game “Accrual World,” included a happiness meter showing satisfaction with the pairing of student financial budgeting, because research revealed too much frugality impacts motivation. “Breaking the Cycle,” a game mapping the path from foster care to successful adulthood, was intentionally structured as difficult to win to reflect the foster youth reality.

“The students did really creative work,” said Brad Barbeau, Associate Professor in CSUMB’s College of Business. “I’m pleased the event has grown, which speaks to student interest in the CSUMB computer science program.”

CSUMB offers a number of business and technology events each year. During last weekend of January 2017, the university will sponsor Start Up Weekend, open to students and Central Coast entrepreneurs and focused on building businesses. This next program is geared to new founders who want to learn the business side.

The envelope, please

Winning entries and teams for the 2016 CSUMB Hackathon were:

  • 1st place – CSUMB “Otter Tour” by the Travelling Otters team Sonali Bharat, Brian Geiger, Monique La Croix, Daniel Mora and Garrett Tibbetts.
  • 2nd place – Building Sustainability by the NULL Constructor team Daniel Crews, Tyler Chargin, Nigel Hardy, Jason Kirn and Phuc Pham.
  • 3rd place/tie – Starving Students by Hashmaps-All Day team Ernesto Louie Cortez, Salvador Hernandez, Brandon Lockwood, Brian Rono and Jessica Vega.
  • 3rd place/tie – CSUMB “Otter Tour” by Git Connected Team AJ Diaz, Dallas Dituri, Alyssia Goodwin, Jennifer Nguyen.

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