How High School Hackathons are Changing STEM

How High School Hackathons are Changing STEM

Mentorship in progress / Credit: HackBCA

Mentorship in progress / Credit: HackBCA

This past year I was psyched to be invited to judge at a high school hackathon called hackBCA (Hack Bergen County Academies High School in New Jersey) alongside Alexis Ohanian, Reddit Co-founder, Sara Chipps, CTO of Flatiron School, Mattan Griffel, CEO of One Month Rails, and Colin Kroll co-founder of Vine. The hackathon was a full 48 hour event, with many teams staying overnight to learn new programming languages, tools, APIs and build really awesome prototypes to working apps, games and 'hacks'.

Joining the panel of some of the judges at HackBCA / Credit: HackBCA

Joining the panel of some of the judges at HackBCA / Credit: HackBCA

In my teens I spent way too many school nights up late hacking away, and the idea of doing it for fun on a weekend with other people would have blown my mind.

Hackathons are not to be confused with 'hacking' in the negative sense (i.e. leaked photos), but are rather a meeting of minds to problem solve, challenge yourself to learn, create and collaborate.

 

What hackBCA students said:

I had a ton of fun, learned an immense of programming knowledge and feel more confident about my abilities. I’m hoping to start work on a new 3D printing application as soon as I recover from the competition.
–Brent Rubell

 

High participated in HackBCA. His team XSS Jackhammer was a fuzzer tool that scans websites in search of XSS vulnerabilities on NodeJS for the first time.

I came away from HackBCA feeling very inspired.  This was the first high school hackathon with which I've been involved, and it's great to see young people making and creating.  
–Daniel Holmund

Check out the final list of winners here.

Major League Hacking

Mike Swift and Jonathan Gottfried, co-founders of Major League Hacking (MLH) shared their insight on high school hackathons with me:

Having hackathons at the high school level is a monumental step in the right direction.  Hackathons are a safe environment for students to experiment and learn - it's not like you're going to get an F in class or you're going to lose your job because you tried something new at a hackathon and your hack flopped.  Getting students to think about learning as an iterative process where experimentation and failure are ok at such a young age puts them lightyears ahead of their peers.

Having hackathons at the high school level is a monumental step in the right direction.  Hackathons are a safe environment for students to experiment and learn [...]
-Major League Hacking

On another note, I'm really excited about all the college kids that are mentoring at high school hackathons.  I used to imagine a world where kids decided to go to Rutgers because they heard about how amazing our hacker culture was and they wanted to be a part of it.  It looks like that dream has become a reality because I actually met a student at the last HackRU that had decided to come to Rutgers because he met a group of Rutgers hackers at another hackathon.  Having collegiate hackers at HS events is helping to facilitate this at another level.  I think this could be the cusp of an undergraduate recruiting revolution.

On MLH

Major League Hacking (MLH) powers the Official Student Hackathon League.  Every semester, more than 15,000 student hackers compete for their school's glory at 50+ official MLH Hackathons across the US, UK, and Canada.

Tips for HS hackathons organizers, hackers and mentors

Pro-tip: drop us an email at hi@mlh.io if you're thinking about organizing a student hackathon at your school. We have tons of awesome resource and tips.