In 2015, a group of college students at Oakland University attended their first hackathon. Hackathons—collaborative and creative programming competitions—weren’t new at the time. However, they were only at a few large schools in the area, and organizers were very selective about who could attend.
Determined to change that, these students came back to school and organized their own hackathon at Oakland University: GrizzHacks. With Microsoft’s support this past September, GrizzHacks organized its third and largest event to date, making us the largest student-run hackathon in the metro Detroit area.
“The biggest way to make change in your community is to empower others to make change.”
At its core, hackathons allow students to come together, learn how to code, and come up with extremely innovative applications and hardware projects in one weekend. GrizzHacks 3 did just that: over 340 students, alumni and industry professionals attended this year’s hackathon. Companies hosted introductory tech workshops to teach students how to start learning to code, and mentors dived deep into the specifics of web development, Android development, and more with students.
Because of the low-pressure and collaborative environment, hackathons like GrizzHacks can inspire attendees to pursue computer science and other STEM fields. Through the mentorship available over the whole weekend, attendees are able to work on ideas and projects they would otherwise never get a chance to tackle in classes. By the end of the weekend, hackers come out feeling proud about what they built. Some of our sponsoring companies came with different challenges, such as to build the “Best Mobility Hack” or “Best Financial Management Tool,” however, these challenges are meant to engage students and get ideas flowing.
Through an open venue to create, a wealth of knowledge in one building, high-speed Wi-Fi, and, of course, catered meals, GrizzHacks does everything it can in order to attract students to dedicate a weekend to code. Our inclusive environment and lack of strict requirements encourages attendees to create projects of all types by the end of the weekend.
At GrizzHacks 3, a few of our favorite projects were:
Created by Nina Dermody, Carbon Combat was a unique tool to reduce your carbon footprint by enabling anyone to purchase carbon offsets.
Created by Pooja Kannappan and Saloni Sharma, iSee was a mobile app that used computer vision and text-to-speech to help the visually impaired be more independent in their day-to-day life.
Created in 24 hours by Albert Wu, Austin Daniell, and Chase Stuk (a team of beginners and first-time hackathon attendees), a game called Survival Friends teaches kids how to respond in emergency situations.
The projects listed above are just a small sampling of unique projects built throughout the weekend, all of which can be viewed here.
Growing a community is an ongoing process and isn’t easy, but it starts by inspiring people and showing them what they are capable of doing. Microsoft’s support and sponsorship has been able to take GrizzHacks to the next level, motivating students across Detroit and across Michigan to keep learning, building and innovating.
Shriyash Jalukar is a computer science major at Oakland University, and a proud Detroiter. He is one of the co-directors of GrizzHacks, and has most recently worked at Techstars Mobility.