Students Excel at First Annual Tri-College Hackathon

by Liz Casey '14
Melissa O'Connor '14
"It was nice to see that all of the hard work and long hours that we put into our coursework could also be applied to a 'real life' project," says Melissa O'Connor '14.

Late last month, students from Swarthmore, Bryn Mawr, and Haverford Colleges held the Tri-Co's first annual Hackathon. The 48-hour event, held on Haverford's campus and open to teams from the three schools, challenged students to create web and mobile apps, products, and other unique technology.

Swarthmore's Computer Science Department had a particularly successful weekend at the event, with Swat students taking the top three prizes. Lucas Chen '16 took first prize, along with five Bryn Mawr teammates, for creating "TryLinGO," a location-based language learning android app. Maclyn Brandwein '17, Kendell Byrd '17, Richard Ngo '17, and Brionna Verse '17 took second prize with "WatchOut," an Android smart watch safety app. Rounding out the winners circle were Mallory Pitser '14, Melissa O'Connor '14, and Madison Garcia '14, who took third place with their application "IOU" that digitally tracks and reminds users of how much they owe their friends and vice versa. O'Connor and Pitser are also co-presidents of Swarthmore's Women in Computer Science club.

"It seemed like the perfect kind of hackathon for us, being close to Swat and limited to Tri-Co students who most likely had similar experience levels to us," says O'Connor, a computer science native from Rockaway, N.J.

Because this hackathon was limited to students from Swarthmore, Haverford, and Bryn Mawr, it took on a unique liberal arts flair. Although the event certainly highlighted the prowess of the respected colleges' computer science and engineering departments, it also accentuated the intersection of technology and the humanities and social sciences. This kind of atmosphere made the hackathon attractive to O'Connor.

"It was nice to know that all the participants were connected on another level - attending a small, liberal arts college in Philadelphia - besides being interested in creating an awesome project," says O'Connor.

First Collection 2013
The Hackathon was held in Founders Great Hall at Haverford College. (Photo courtesy of @TriCoHackathon)

Indeed, the event was part of an effort to bring technology and experience to liberal arts schools that may not have the support of massive computer science or engineering schools. The hackathon also introduced participants to the Philadelphia tech scene. Haverford hosted a start-up night before the event where entrepreneurs like Cloudmine CEO Brendan McCorkle and MissionOG managing partner Drew Kese spoke.

From the day that she became a computer science major, O'Connor knew that it was the department for her. The combination of the welcoming professors and innovative students in a liberal arts atmosphere were the perfect match. For O'Connor and the other Swarthmore students who participated in the event, it was a validating experience.

"It was nice to see that all of the hard work and long hours that we put into our coursework could also be applied to a 'real life' project," she says.