“One of the coolest things we do at St. Luke’s is a weekend Hackathon. Kids come and spend the weekend collaborating on software and hardware projects in pursuit of learning new skills. No experience is required and “hackers” are mentored by alumni and industry experts. It’s a one-of-a-kind event and what they create is amazing.”
- Michael Mitchell, St. Luke’s designLab Director
There is nothing quite like the St. Luke’s Hackathon happening here on the Hilltop January 19-20.
The Hackathon is an overnight event held on the St. Luke’s campus. Students gather to work—collaboratively or independently—on bringing an idea to life. They collaborate, prototype and then actually build a project. St. Luke’s faculty, alumni and volunteer mentors are present throughout to oversee the experience and provide feedback and guidance.
This year, students will tackle real-world problems connected to transportation. How do people get around and how could we make that experience better? This might involve skateboards, jetpacks, alternative fuels, travel games, and anything else a creative mind can conjure. The sponsor of the Hackathon is Mustard, a company currently reinventing school transportation. According to founder, Alberto Escarlate, Mustard came about to solve a transportation problem: “Parents are crazy busy. They don’t need to worry about whether their kids are getting to school and to activities. Mustard came up with the idea of equipping school vans and buses with technology that lets parents know where their children’s bus is, know when it will get there, and when they got on and off. It’s an innovative solution that’s now launching in schools like St. Luke’s.”
On this fifth anniversary of the St. Luke’s Hackathon, originator Michael Mitchell, St. Luke’s designLab Director, answers a few questions about this remarkable event and encourages anybody who is interested to stop by and see the Hackathon in action:
An Overnight Student Hackathon...Are You Out of Your Mind?
I get that question a lot. When I first brought the idea of a Hackathon to my colleague Jim Foley, Assistant Head of School for Leadership and Innovation, our conversation went something like this…
Jim: “Let me get this straight. You want a bunch of kids to take over the school for a whole weekend so they can invent stuff?” Michael: “Yup.” Jim: “Why not? Let’s try it.”
Of course, we had concerns. How would kids handle the freedom of working as late as you want or being in school at all hours? Could they really focus and create something? But it turns out that the kids who attend really get into the Hackathon spirit. They come to create. They appreciate the time to set everything else aside and focus on their big idea. The goal of the weekend is to grow an idea and develop a prototype in any form. It can be low tech or high tech. It can actually work or not work.”
Students Volunteer to Come to School on a Weekend?
It is pretty remarkable to see so many kids arrive happy to spend more time at school. Of course, it’s not at all a typical school day. While we kick off the Hackathon as a group, students can quickly structure their own work habits and environment. It’s incredibly exciting to be given the freedom to pursue your own idea in the way you want to pursue it. It’s also very informal. Kids work in their sweatpants or even pajamas. They can stay up all night if they choose—and many get so into their projects they can’t sleep. And they get lots of pizza and hot chocolate. It’s hard work but it’s also a lot of fun.
Do You Have to be a Science-y Type to Hack?
Absolutely not. Watch our video
and you’ll see the whole spectrum of creating—kids using high-tech equipment and kids cutting things out of cardboard. So many students arrive tentative but curious and emerge on Sunday more accomplished and confident. They begin to see themselves as people who have ideas and the ability to figure things out.