Today is the first day of Women’s History Month. I will get the party started at LadyHacks, a women-only hackathon.
While I have participated in a lot of hackathons , I’m looking forward to being in a room full of lady problem-solvers. So if you pass by WHYY and hear some noise, it ain’t the boys. It’s #LadyHacks.
I would like to wish you a happy and healthy new year.
I plan a fresh start in 2013 with Philly Phresh Start, a project to promote science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) among African American youth. I will apply the lessons learned from my year as a civic innovator to connect STEM to students’ day-to-day realities and interests.
The project will use pop-up hackerspaces, interactive video and social media to empower young people to imagine a better future.
I’ve now participated in nine hackathons. Random Hacks of Kindness will always be first in my heart. So I had some pep in my step as I walked to Drexel University’s brand new ExCITe Center for #RHoKPhilly.
We addressed the problem of limited access to healthy food, which is a contributing factor to the obesity crisis.
And developed a solution: Philly ForagR, a location-based app that promotes healthy living and well-being.
Users can enter their address to find the location of supermarkets, grocery stores, farmers markets, etc., that sell healthy foods. They will be provided with public transit and walking directions. The walking directions will include the location of historic markers, murals and other points of interest along the way.
With a few clicks, users will have access to healthy recipes that they can whip up with the food they purchased.
Philly ForagR placed third at #RHoKPhilly. The app is live so you can test it for yourself.
I’m a policy wonk and doer. This time last year, I didn’t have a clue what happened at a hackathon. I associated hackers with bad guys who stole identities and broke into websites. So you can imagine my delight to be introduced to a community of civic-minded hackers. Hackathons provide a platform for problem-solvers and do-gooders to collaborate and create interesting things.
A lot of awesome prototypes are developed at hackathons. But to have an impact, the project must be sustained beyond the weekend. Like romance, a prototype without finance doesn’t stand a chance. So the team should include an evangelist who is passionate about the project. Someone who is willing to spend the time and energy it will take to get resources to build out the app. I was chief evangelist for the Cost of Freedom Project and Yo! Philly Votes.
If you build it, they will come. Right? Maybe. You have to market to your target audience. I partnered with national and local nonprofits to engage their members. I also used social networks and mainstream media to raise awareness of the civic apps.
A year later, I’m going back to where it all began -- Random Hacks of Kindness, which will be held at Drexel’s new ExCITe Center. I’m, well, excited to give an update on Yo! Philly Votes and perhaps pitch a project.
I’m also excited about how the hackathon platform and collaborative mindset can bridge the gap in teacher training and spark interest in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math). While a lot of serious coding takes place during hackathons, it’s not all work. They’re actually fun. Folks play games and banter back and forth.
Hackathons or hackerspaces can help underrepresented minorities, particularly young black males, imagine a better future. They would be introduced to professionals who can connect STEM to their day-to-day realities and interests. Given the shifting demographics, it is an economic imperative that we inculcate interest in STEM subjects among black and Latino students.