CGI U@Duke Stories: CGI U Codeathon’s winner Rachel Anderson encourages all to participate

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At this year’s Clinton Global Initiative University (CGI U) conference at the University of Miami in Miami, Florida, I participated in the CGI U Codeathon, which is a part of the CGI Health Matters Initiative #codeforimpact Codeathon series.

Although I was nervous about the Codeathon because I had never participated in a hackathon before, I decided that this was the perfect opportunity to improve my coding skills and to meet others who share my interests in technology and social impact. I’m glad I did, because it was a great experience!

I entered the competition as an individual, which wasn’t a problem because the organizers divided us into groups based on our coding ability and preferred area of focus among the topics Public Health, Education, and Environment & Climate Change. Each group consisted of individuals with technical expertise, as well as individuals with no coding experience whatsoever. Each group also had at least one Commitment Maker, whose Commitment to Action was the inspiration for that group’s Codeathon project.

My group was in the Education area, and our problem was related to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) education in the United States. Our Commitment Maker’s project took place in Fargo, North Dakota, where he and his team organized a network of tutors to help middle school students foster a love for math. The problem he was facing with this project was that the tutors’ schedules did not align with the schedules of the middle school students. During the Codeathon, we worked to develop a web-based platform that would solve this problem by allowing tutors and middle school students to collaborate virtually.

As a team we created a pitch for our web technology, called MathMagic, and I developed a prototype for the site using Adobe InDesign. Since the focus of the competition was mostly idea formation and aesthetics, my team spent more time developing our idea and perfecting our pitch rather than building a working version of the site.

Here are some of the design sketches I made to include in our presentation.

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CGIU_RachelAnderson4I would highly recommend this Codeathon for people who are interested in gaining experience working in groups and developing a technological solution to big problems. The time commitment for the Codeathon was very manageable, since we were not expected to work for the entire 48-hour period. Instead, we worked 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. (with many breaks) on Thursday, and 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Friday. Coding skills are not necessary to participate. Those looking to code may be disappointed, since while there is an opportunity to build an actual product, the focus is on creating an idea that will be sustainable.

I’m excited to share that my group won the competition! In addition to being tweeted about by Chelsea Clinton, we were featured on stage during the Closing Session of the conference, and had the opportunity to take photos with Bill and Hilary Clinton backstage! I was interviewed by a Time Magazine reporter, and our project was featured in The Miami Hurricane:

http://www.themiamihurricane.com/2015/03/06/codeathon-participants-create-significant-platforms-for-cgi-u-commitments/