Editor’s note: This article was initially published in The Daily Gazette, Swarthmore’s online, daily newspaper founded in Fall 1996. As of Fall 2018, the DG has merged with The Phoenix. See the about page to read more about the DG.
Students from Swarthmore, Haverford and Bryn Mawr gathered this past weekend in Founder’s Hall at Haverford College for the 2015 Tri-Co Hackathon. Nine teams, each working on a different project, had 48 hours to conceive, execute, and demonstrate a mobile or web application that tackles a social or environmental problem. The judging panel was made up of eight professionals from varying fields within the the three colleges and Philadelphia.
Running on bagels, falafel, and coffee, the students sought to examine different problems affecting communities ranging from Haverford’s student body to citizens of impoverished nations. The winning application was designed by a group of Swarthmore students: Sedinam Worlanyo ’17, Amy Han ’17, and Razi Shaban ’16. For their project, the team created a web application that bridged the gap between citizens and their government by allowing users to report problems quickly and effectively.
Worlanyo, Han and Shaban’s diverse backgrounds served as their main source of inspiration. Worlanyo and Shaban are international students from Ghana and Jordan, respectively. Shaban said, “In our countries, government and basic infrastructure are necessities that are not taken for granted. We wanted to come up with a tool that will help connect citizens with the people in power.”
Problems that could be reported through the program include health issues, like lack of sanitary water or a fallen tree, to social issues, like corrupt government officials or police brutality, and more. The team named their product “ReportIt.”
The process of reporting a problem is simple. Once on the website, a map pops up and allows the user to pinpoint the exact location of the problem. The user is then prompted to classify the problem. As soon as the user is done, a message is then sent to the government official in charge of the sector pertinent to the problem. A marker is placed on the map an only is removed once the problem has been resolved.
Another useful aspect of the application is the map denoting the problems and the location which can contain valuable data about the region. “Right now, we can detect if there is clustering for a certain crime at a particular location,” Han said, “and, in the future, we hope to use data analytics on the incoming requests.”
The team also realizes the shortcoming of their application. “Not everyone has access to the internet,” Shaban said, “but we are trying to integrate a SMS-based way of reporting and geo-locating users.” The team also wants to expand the geolocation capabilities by allowing users to submit reports via tweets with the hashtag “#reportit.”
Even though their finished product was both highly functional and polished, this was just the first hackathon for all of the group members. Han stressed the accessibility of the hackathon for all students.
“We’re all newbies to the hackathon scene. There were usually mentors in the room helping us and we learned mostly from online tutorials,” said Han, “The hardest step for a hackathon is getting yourself physically there.”
Worlanyo said, “My advice for people who want to do hackathons is that you should just go even if no one wants to go with you.” Worlanyo found her team members by making a Facebook post asking for interested individuals to contact her.
Even though web development classes are not taught in computer science courses at Swarthmore, the team agreed that the computer science department did an excellent job in preparing them to think and solve problems like a programmer.
The other applications that were created during the hackathon include an updated Tri-Co course guide, textbook exchange platform, data visualizations of Philadelphia’s crime statistics, food delivery system, air quality monitor, and dynamic grocery shopping application.
Despite the sleepless nights and programming frustrations, all participating students look forward to having another hackathon next year within the Tri-college community.
Featured image by Leon Chen ’18/The Daily Gazette.