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Weekend Marathon Will Have Students Hacking For Social Good

Weekend Marathon Will Have Students Hacking For Social Good

HackDuke will bring 500 people together this weekend to find solutions to social problems

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Students work on their apps at the 2013 Hack Duke. Photo: Duke University Photography

This weekend, hundreds of tech junkies will get together at Duke to do good for the world.

HackDuke is about finding creative, technology-driven solutions to social problems. The hackathon is unusual in its lack of a profit motive; organizers and participants work with the leaders of several local non-profits to create ideas in four areas: energy and the environment, education, healthcare and inequality. One recent hackathon winner, for example, created a program that allows homeless shelters to communicate with clients efficiently through a text messaging listserv service. Another translated sign language into speech.

Ashley Qian, a Duke senior from New York City, helped organize the hackathon, which begins Saturday at 10 a.m. and runs through Sunday at the Fitzpatrick Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences (CIEMAS). Qian said she expects 500 participants – the maximum number of people allowed in the facility.

Qian spoke to Duke Today about the event. Here are excerpts:

Q: What makes HackDuke different from the many other hack-a-thons you see on college campuses these days?

Ashley Qian: We are the biggest collegiate hackathon in the nation focused on social good. No other school is engaging 500 of the most passionate students, engineers from the top tech companies and members of their community to work toward solutions that will impact society. We challenge our participants to think past their classroom problem sets and work with experts from the non-profit community to bridge the gap between tech and social good.

Q. Several non-profits like Durham Cares and the Community Empowerment Fund will take part in the event. What role will they play?

Qian: They are context providers and idea refiners. The non-profit experts have gathered together in multiple community roundtables to identify what community problems are and what it means truly make impact.

Q. Does the social good aspect of this particular hackathon produce significantly different ideas than other, similar events?

Qian: The social good aspect of the hack-a-thon produces more ideas that are useful and actually feasible to implement than similar events.

Q. Can a truly useful, well-formed idea really be created in just two days?

Qian: A useful, well thought out idea? Absolutely. A finished product? Definitely not. This event has done two things. It has inspired more students to work on problems that are related to social good. It has also opened the eyes of more non-profits of the potential of technology. HackDuke is not a solution to society's problems. It's the beginning of the journey in identifying them, and exploring the solutions to them.

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