Ten-hour dash: Computer science undergraduates win National Society of Black Engineers hackathon

photo of 2018 hackNSBE winning team members

Create a platform that will motivate and simplify voting. You have 10 hours. Go.

A team of undergraduates from the Department of Computer Science at Colorado State University rose to the challenge, taking home first place honors in the hackNSBE competition at the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) region 6 conference in November.

The intense programming competition is open to students of all majors. Teams of 2-5 work to solve a coding challenge using their technical knowledge and sponsor-provided application programming interfaces and software development kits. The purpose of the hackathon is to bring a new idea to life by building a working prototype. The students’ solutions may become groundbreaking inventions that influence engineering-intensive industries.

Taking concept to product under pressure

This year, competitors were challenged to create a platform to motivate and simplify the voting process, and/or increase the number of young African American voters – and to deliver the product in just 10 hours. CSU team members Augusta Irechukwu, Simon Nardos, Abel Ykalo, and Daniel Cooke faced off against teams from USC, University of Washington, UC Davis, and California State University.

“We initially decided to improve upon an existing platform, but as time went by, the idea seemed too complex to finish in 10 hours,” explained senior Augusta Irechukwu. “Simon suggested we create a website that takes in the user’s address and then uses the Google Maps API to tell the user the location of the closest voting booth or ballot drop-off point. The team decided to do that.”

Racing to meet the deadline, team members slept and worked in shifts throughout the night. Computer science junior Simon Nardos presented the completed platform to the panel of three judges. Winners were announced at the conference closing banquet and received an Amazon Echo Dot, a hockey puck-sized smart speaker that connects to the virtual assistant Alexa.

In addition to the hackathon, the two-day conference offered a wide variety of tracks and events devoted to professional and technical development. The region-targeted event also focused on recruiting, hosting a career fair to help organizations match talented STEM candidates to open positions locally and nationally.

The National Society of Black Engineers is one of the largest student-run organizations in the United States. Founded by undergraduate students in 1975, it has more than 30,000 members worldwide. The NSBE mission is to increase the number of culturally responsible Black and other minority engineers who excel academically, succeed professionally, and positively impact the community.