athena hacks morgan mercer

Empowering Women at Hackathons: AthenaHacks 2019

Lindsay Huan Computer Science, Involvement, Viterbi Orgs, Women In Engineering Leave a Comment

Happy AthenaHacks 2019!

For those who don’t know, AthenaHacks is USC’s all-female (trans and non-binary inclusive) hackathon. This year, it took place at the Ronald Tutor Campus Center from April 6-7. We had over 500 attendees and 74 total projects submitted! As the design lead for the hackathon, I’m responsible for event branding, creating swag and making the graphics for social media posts! In addition, on the actual day of the hackathon, all of the organizers (marketing, finances, logistics and programs) are all present at the event, ready to answer questions, meet with sponsors, and set up the venue. While AthenaHacks might only last for 24 hours, a LOT of advance planning goes into such a large-scale event. We actually start recruiting for our organizing team in early September, and get straight to work securing sponsors, booking venues, reaching out to other schools, and designing swag. In the days leading up to the event, we spend a lot of time hauling food, swag and other materials such as hardware into our venue. This year, we had a ton of great snacks, from Awake chocolates (a hacker favorite!) to a Kombucha stand to cases upon cases of Yerba Mate.

food and snacks at AthenaHacks 2019

We also decided to set up a balloon arch this year, an effort that took a lot of coordination but also trial and error! In the end, we were pretty happy with the result:

The marketing and design committee!

AthenaHacks 2019 began with an opening ceremony, and our keynote speaker this year was Morgan Mercer. She’s the founder and CEO of Vantage Point, a tech company that creates virtual reality products that train people to improve their soft skills. One particularly amazing product her company has created is a virtual reality training program that aims to put an end to sexual harassment. Morgan Mercer speaking at the opening ceremony Throughout the event, our sponsors held a huge variety of workshops, ranging from from Technical Interview Tips to Intro to Unity. One of the most popular ones was Intro to Android, hosted by Facebook! Besides the more technical-focused workshops, Activision held a gaming tournament and Major League Hacking (MLH) held their cup stacking competition in which teams aim to build the tallest stack of cups in five minutes!

Cup stacking hosted by MLH

The next morning, our hackers finished up their projects and prepared for the Project Expo. Teams could submit their projects to various categories (such as Best UI/UX, Best Use of Ruby on Rails) for a chance to win prizes. Winners were then announced at the final event of AthenaHacks—the closing ceremony! This year, the best overall hack went to a project called “ThumbBraille.” They developed an incredible mobile braille input method (IME) with one thumb for blind individuals. Well deserved!

Best Overall Hack awarded to the “ThumbBraille” team

As an organizer, it was amazing and humbling to see how many people came out to hack, as well looking at the incredible projects they created. I have to say, AthenaHacks is probably my favorite involvement on campus. For many attendees, it was their first hackathon, and I love organizing an event that caters not only to advanced programmers, but beginners as well. I hope they’ve walked away from this weekend both empowered and inspired to create more! If you want to check out some of the superb projects submitted, click here!

As for AthenaHacks 2020, we’ve already started the planning process again….

About the Author
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Lindsay is a sophomore studying Computer Science. Click above to find out more!


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