KSU students welcome challenge of first virtual Hackathon


MARIETTA, Ga. (Sep 23, 2020) — Hackathons are by nature designed to challenge students to perform under unusual circumstances, typically by solving complex industry-related problems within a short timeframe. This year, teams of students competing in the College of Computing and Software Engineering’s (CCSE) fourth annual Hackathon were faced with the entirely new challenge of participating fully online.

“Personally, I like to get out of my comfort zone,” said David Blunk, an information technology student who has competed for the last three years. “I always see the Hackathon as an opportunity for me to learn new things, and I always try to push myself to try something that I haven’t attempted before.”

HackathonBlunk was one of more than 110 students who partook in the 2020 Hackathon this month. CCSE’s signature event, it is designed to showcase student talent while connecting them with industry partners across the metro area. Throughout the event, students applied the knowledge they have gained inside the classroom to real-world problems posed by sponsoring companies. The sponsors – Wellstar, HPCC Systems and MagMutual – each issued challenges specific to their respective industries and lent experts to mentor Kennesaw State students throughout the competition.

Teams were judged by the sponsoring companies and awarded first-, second- and third-place prizes in each challenge. The event was open to all students pursuing degrees in CCSE.

Normally held on campus, the event pivoted to an entirely online format this year due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic. Instead of meeting with industry professionals face-to-face, students were able to engage with them via virtual chatrooms. Rather than present their projects in front of a packed room at the end of the four-day event, students tailored their presentations to take place on Microsoft Teams.

“Every year, we are awestruck by the flexibility and ingenuity our students demonstrate when faced with adversity, and this year was perhaps the best indicator of their ability to adjust to any circumstance,” said Dawn Tatum, director of CCSE partnerships and engagements and senior lecturer of information technology. “This event has always served as an excellent platform to showcase the talent of our students to our industry partners and serves as a launchpad for their future careers.”

Such was the case for Caitlyn Murphy, who along with James Bond and Nick Genova won first place in the Wellstar category. Having participated in two prior Hackathons, she credits the experience with landing her a job at the Institute of Nuclear Power Operators.

“I love being able to test my abilities across a variety of areas and being able to network with professionals,” said Murphy, a computer science major. “I’ve been able to explore topics I might have never considered prior, and that went a long way in my securing a job.” 

Blunk, who along with Nicolas Capparelli and Andrew Goeden won first place in the MagMutal category, said the secret to success is building a team of students who complement each other’s skill sets. Last year, the trio won first place in the Equifax category by hashing out their solution on a whiteboard in an on-campus dorm. This year, they utilized a variety of online channels to arrive at a solution.

Like Murphy, Blunk said he keeps returning each year for the challenge.

“Even if I didn’t win last year, I would have come back just for the grind,” he said. “I can honestly say this is the highlight of my school year.”

A total of nine teams were awarded prizes on the final day of the Hackathon:

HPCC Systems
First place – Lydia Vaine, Jonathan-Henry Chery and Alex Henson
Second place – Abedul Hoque, Yasha Jones and Ngan Tran
Third place – Srivasta Mallpragada, Noah Gardner, Anthony Phan

First place – David Blunk, Nicolas Capparelli and Andrew Goeden
Second place – Baboucarr Sanneh, Ashiv Sharma and Munia Rahman
Third place – Jiaming Li, Xiao Zhang and Houida Aldih

First place – Caitlyn Murphy, James Bond and Nick Genova
Second place – Issouf Kindo and My Anh Huynh
Third place – Andre Dumas, Naquan Smith and Barrett Rose

– Travis Highfield

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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit kennesaw.edu