Student techies thrive at 2018 Hack-MT gathering

By the end of the third Hack-MT at Middle Tennessee State University Sunday (Jan. 28), there was plenty of cheering and whooping and hollering from a bunch of tired people.

Along the way from Friday (Jan. 26) until the science fair portion of the event Sunday morning, a wealth of collaboration and teamwork and an abundance of lack of sleep were prevalent.

College students from across the region joined those from MTSU for the hackathon, a 36-hour gathering of young programmers, software developers, visual designers and others teaming up for projects in the Science Building.

At 10:15 a.m. Sunday, two separate divisions of an MTSU team developing a Ping-Pong game with artificial intelligence were busy wrapping up their creations.

Senior Serenah Smith, a computer science and biology double major from Nolensville, Tennessee, said “it was slow going to begin with, but once you get going, it’s like any project — getting started is the hard part.”

Smith’s brother, Ian Smith, a homeschooled high school senior planning to attend MTSU, took part in the event and helped their team.

Judges awarded first place to a team that created “Lawnbots,” a system related to lawn care. A five-member team that included MTSU and University of Tennessee, Knoxville, students, earned second place.

MTSU students Karla Robles and Marshall Cooper joined forces with mentors Zach Kauble and Michael Millen with SERVPRO, and finished third with their “Blimp Race” entry.

Their team’s large red and gold balloons had a computer board attached, with wires connected to motors, Robles said. It had Wi-Fi capability. Programmers could send a command to take the balloons up or down or left or right.

Robles, who said she got six hours of sleep Friday night and two hours of sleep Saturday night, said working with the mentors was “super fun.”

Hacker’s Choice winners for the third year in a row were an MTSU team led by computer science graduate student Steven Sheffey.

“It’s definitely cool to be recognized by your peers,” Sheffey said. “You have to have a good idea and a lot of teamwork.”

Yolanda Greene of Murfreesboro, Rutherford County market president for First Tennessee Bank, said it “amazes me every year how much brainpower these students have.”

During the awards, Greene presented MTSU junior computer science major Vanessa Serao with an iPad Pro. Serao, whose name was drawn, participated with all-female MTSU team that created a simple trivia game.

“It was stressful, but so worth it,” Serao said. “(We had) no sleep, as we were trying to figure out everything.”

Twenty-seven teams began the process, but only 18 made it to the end, said Chrisila Pettey, MTSU computer science chair.

“One team had a motor short out Saturday night and there’s no replacing it,” she said. “A few other teams had problems, too.”

Students from Tennessee Tech, Tennessee State University, Belmont, University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, and University of Alabama, Huntsville, also participated.

Sponsors included Bondware Web Solutions, First Tennessee, CAT Financial and Jackson National Life Insurance Co.

In addition to SERVPRO, financially supportive “friends” of the event included DecisionSource, Rutherford Works, axial Healthcare, Genesco and Eventbrite.

MTSU has more than 240 combined undergraduate and graduate programs. Computer science is part of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences and computer information systems is part of the Jones College of Business.

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