Going virtual for the first time didn’t slow down the 2020 HackRice X event hosted September 18-20th. In fact, because location wasn’t an issue, hosting the event online had the added benefit of allowing a wider variety of speakers and attendees from all over the world.
“Because of the virtual nature of the event, we were able to invite many speakers and panelists,” said Claire Wang, co-director of the event. “They all brought different perspectives and gave some really valuable career insight and advice to our hackers.”
HackRice X included speakers and panelists from NASA, the NSA, Google, Facebook, Airbnb and Pew Research as well as almost 350 participants from institutions around the world. About half of those were current Rice students. The number of teams competing was significantly higher this year as well, with 83 teams submitting projects compared to the 48 project submissions in 2019. The teams included undergraduate and graduate students and even a few high school students.
“There is a huge adrenaline rush for everyone participating in a hackathon, and that was no different this year,” co-director Emma Dunn explained. “Adapting HackRice to a virtual event was both challenging and exciting, as there were a lot of really cool things we could do this year that are much more difficult to do in an in-person setting. We wanted to try to replicate the in-person experience as much as possible, while also taking advantage of the unique things we could do with a virtual event.”
Whether in-person or online, HackRice is unique because it focuses on first-time hackers. The organizers hosted a 'Find Your Team' workshop before the event so students would feel prepared and to make finding teammates easier. The event has a First Timers' Track specifically for students participating in a hackathon for the first time, and this year HackRice X hosted 'How to: Github' and 'How to: Win a Hackathon!' to give students the resources they needed and a platform to get their questions answered.
The top five finalists’ hacks emphasized distance learning, biomedical technology and data science. The HackRice X first-place winner was an app called VibeCheck that connects with industry-leading emotional AI to track student engagement during online learning. The winning team members were Mohamed Abead ('24), Ryan Draper ('22), Jaejun Ku ('22) and Michael Jerhau Tang ('23).
Given some real curveballs, the organizers pulled off a very successful HackRice X. “A virtual HackRice was definitely something that Emma and I weren’t expecting when we first started planning for the event at the start of the year, but we were really excited by the challenge and the opportunity to be more creative,” Wang shared. “It was fun to bounce ideas off of each other and then just make it happen, and everything really came together in the end! I think we’re pretty amazed at how we were able to pull it off, and we’re really happy with how well HackRice went!”
Photo Above: Winners of the HackRice Team Picture Competition included Kai Hung, Yuka Aoyama, Ian Carroll and Benjamin Chao.