High School Hackathon Inspires the Future of Computer Science at Michigan
By Kate Toporski, CFE Content Development Intern
This weekend, more than 100 high school students, veteran hackers, and volunteers will flood the Bob and Betty Beyster Building for a weekend of creation. ArborHacks 2, the University of Michigan’s premiere high school learnathon, is bringing in the future of computer science to explore programming and hacking on campus. Providing a space for education, diversity, and creation, the ArborHacks team is inspiring big dreams and even bigger projects for prospective computer science students in Ann Arbor and beyond.
Throughout the last year, the ArborHacks team has worked to increase early exposure to the university’s CS program. This week, we had a chance to sit down with ArborHacks Co-Founder and Learnathon Coordinator- Max Albert- to discuss the goals of the 2nd annual learnathon.
Q: How did you get the idea to start ArborHacks?
Max Albert: When I was a senior at Pioneer High School, my friend and I went to MHacks 2. That experience changed my life. We walked into the Big House- swag everywhere and all of the biggest sponsors and recruiters chatting with students- overwhelmed by the opportunities. Over the course of the weekend, we attended tech talks, bonded with mentors, and created a hack that resembles Venmo. The environment of MHacks was unreal, and I couldn’t get enough. Unfortunately, high school students really weren’t supposed to attend, which held me back from confirming my acceptance from Michigan. I had no exposure to the university’s Computer Science scene. So, once I was here, I aimed to help high schoolers, in Ann Arbor and across the state, experience the CS culture at U of M. ArborHacks exposes students to CS in college, as well as providing them with basic coding skills to spark creativity in coding.
Q: Why is this introduction to computer science so important for high school students?
MA: Michigan’s Computer Science program is one of the few that didn’t have a connection for high school students. MIT’s Blueprint or Spartan Hack are resources for high schoolers to check out what universities have to offer. At ArborHacks, we have a 1:1 hacker/mentor ratio. This strong presence of mentorship from veteran hackers breaks the intimidating barriers that large hackathon have for beginning hackers. The team is hoping to lower the entry barrier into the field of programming, which will allow for diversity of background, gender, and thought.
Q: You mentioned earlier that ArborHacks has some goals. What do you hope to accomplish at ArborHacks 2?
MA: The ArborHacks team has three goals: 1) Every hacker is to leave with a 100% completion ratio 2) 70% of ArborHacks hackers will attend a major hacking event following this weekend and 3) The gender ratio will be a 50/50 split between men and women. These goals encourage diversity, promote education, and provide every hacker with a finished product to spark their interest in technology, and even entrepreneurship.
Q: Why is diversity so important to the ArborHacks team?
MA: When the hackers are diverse, so are the hacks. When everybody looks and thinks the same, we see a lot of repetition. We aimed to really drive inclusivity this year by hosting pre-hackathon programming events for women and minorities. ArborHacks challenges its participants to think big, and not just big- but the biggest. By bringing diversity of gender and race in early, the field and its innovation will flourish, locally and beyond.
Q: What’s the best advice that you can give someone who’s either attending ArborHacks this weekend or in the future?
MA: Dream high. On student applications, we asked about their dream hacks. What is the craziest, most exciting thing you can think of creating? And we challenge hackers to build them. Applicants this year had some amazing ideas, including social media apps that get rid of fake news sources, or an Uber system for grocery delivery! I’m so excited for the creativity that will be on the scene this weekend.
Max, and the rest of the ArborHacks team, can’t wait to see what kinds of hacks will come out of this weekend’s event. If you’re interested in joining the ArborHacks team or taking part in their community programs, visit their website at arborhacks.com. Happy hacking!