PantherHacks: Innovating for COVID-19


Two weeks ago, FIU’s largest technology organization, Upsilon Pi Epsilon (UPE), worked alongside FIU President Mark Rosenberg to host Florida’s very first PantherHacks! PantherHacks was a virtual weekend-long hackathon focused on developing creative solutions to the unique challenges produced by COVID-19 and the following areas most affected by the epidemic: Community, Education, Health, and Productivity. With over 200 attendees, PantherHacks also partnered with Google Cloud Product (GCP) to provide students with a wide variety of resources to learn about new technologies and development stacks, as well as excellent opportunities for students to work on innovative solutions with close-knit teams of up to four people. 

Workshops were a very popular component of PantherHacks, allowing for new and aspiring developers to explore a diverse range of technologies and provide further insight into the varying topics of application development. The topics consisted of popular development areas such as Google Cloud Product (GCP), Web and Mobile Development, Design and Product Management, and Data Analytics. Experienced developers were able to explain central ideas behind each technology and provide live coding demos, giving the hackers perspective into the development process behind each respective technology. Students were then able to apply what they learned in the workshops to upstart their project ideas.

PantherHacks also offered expert talks given by distinguished community leaders at FIU to help cultivate students’ project ideas to make an impact. Saif Ishoof, Vice President of FIU’s Office of Engagement, led a discussion on how students can use their hacks to make a difference in their communities. Also, Leanne Wells, Director, FIU Center for the Advancement of Teaching, gave an inspiring talk about how technology can be applied to the domain of education. Also, Ravi Gajendran, of FIU’s Department of Global Leadership and Management, talked about how to make an impact in the field of productivity. Each of these talks highlighted aspects of the current COVID-19 pandemic that directly impacted their respective areas and how technology can be used to mitigate the effects of the virus in each area.

To emulate the atmosphere of an in-person hackathon, PantherHacks was run entirely on Discord, a popular social communication application. On Discord, hackers had access to qualified mentors throughout the entire hackathon period that were able to guide students with any roadblocks and relay ideas around their applications. There were also a vast number of interactive activities aimed at keeping a crucial aspect seen in in-person hackathons: to be able to make connections with new people in a fun way. Some of the events that went on through the hackathon included such as the Skribbl.io games, Kahoot competitions for prizes, and a team-building activity to help participants find teammates who did not have anyone to hack with. 

The winning teams competing for prizes pinpointed problem-areas deeply rooted by the effects of the pandemic. They developed exceptional tools enabling users to live through the current times of uncertainty. The first overall prize went to “Datadogs,” a team of brilliant students whose project allows users to gain access to live sources of information about COVID-19 while dynamically integrating and collecting stochastic data metrics to identify people’s likelihood of catching the virus. The “ABF” won second place and the best use of Google Cloud prize by GCP by designing an educational platform to keep users informed about the virus and its progressions.

Additional Hackathon winners included teams whose hacks directly addressed problems concerning the different categories. “Fools Squad,” a group that created an interactive game that allowed players to play as a doctor avoiding coronavirus, won first place prize for the Best Education Hack. “The Adazas” demoed an application that helps frontline health care workers stay updated on the supplies available in their hospital, winning the prize for the Best Health Hack. “HomBound” prototyped a solution that assists the elderly by offering them an alternative to going out and getting supplies such as groceries that won them the Best Community Hack. The prize for the Best Productivity Hack went to “Vibe Master,” a team that created an ingenious way for people to notify their network of when they are busy or not.

PantherHacks even opened up opportunities to incentivize groups to carry out their projects even further by selecting innovative teams to apply to Google Cloud’s COVID-19 hackathon fund awarding up to $5,000 in cloud credits and guidance from Google engineers. 

Overall, PantherHacks received a tremendous amount of positive feedback. Students were able to learn new techniques in computing and applied their knowledge to build pretty cool apps to combat the challenges presented by the COVID-19 outbreak.

Do you want another opportunity to innovate new ideas with UPE? Don’t miss out on this year’s annual ShellHacks, Florida’s largest hackathon taking place on September 25-27. You can register now at https://shellhacks.net/.  Stay updated on the latest news and events hosted by UPE by joining their Discord here: https://discord.gg/upefiu. For additional information regarding UPE, please refer to the following site: https://upe.cs.fiu.edu/.

Written by: John Quitto-Graham

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