Fox Chapel Area seniors organize ‘hackathon’ at high school |
Fox Chapel

Fox Chapel Area seniors organize ‘hackathon’ at high school

Jan Pakler | For the Tribune-Review
Fox Chapel Area High School students (from left) Mihir Garimelia, Bliss Uribe and Andreas Pajug planned and hosted a 'hackathon' called FCHack at the school, March 25. In this photo, they are are judging a project in which a guitar generates a current to a Tesla coil .

In less than nine hours, four Fox Chapel Area High School students created a glove that could effectively turn your hand into an electronic string instrument.

Using a combination of wires and sensors, they fitted the glove so that it could be put on one hand and strummed with the other, creating the sound and pitch of a guitar or violin.

The glove is only a prototype, but it recently received the first-place award in the Pittsburgh area’s first “hackathon” for high school students — FCHacks. Hackathons are events where computer programmers collaborate to create something technological in a limited amount of time. And they usually happen at schools like Carnegie Mellon University, the University of Michigan or the Massachusets Institute of Technology — leaders in technological development.

“These events almost never happen in high schools,” said Megan Cicconi, Fox Chapel’s director of instructional and innovative leadership. “But luckily, these student organizers are so aware that there is a digital gap out there.”

Fox Chapel seniors Mihir Garimella, Bliss Uribe and junior Andreas Paljug planned and marketed FCHacks, an event intended for students to meet and engage in computer programming and a robotic building competition.

Some 180 students from southwestern Pennsylvania high schools flooded the hallways, classrooms, library, multi-purpose room and cafeteria inside the high school for the 12-hour event focused around computer software and robotic workshops.

The event, sponsored by Eaton— a national power management company with a facility in Pittsburgh— kicked off at 7:45 a.m. with guest speaker Dave Mawhinney, a CMU professor and venture capitalist. From there, students moved into groups, brainstormed ideas and began hacking.

The students had until 5:15 p.m. to create and present their prototypes for judging by representatives from Eaton, Google, CMU, the University of Pittsburgh and .tech, a website domain company.

The projects could be anything — ranging from apps and websites to digital games and robots. Fox Chapel had 3-D printers, laser engravers and Arduino prototyping platform kits available throughout the school.

“My biggest takeaway from this was how remarkable of an impact you can make when you give students the right tools,” Uribe said. “And once we gave them those tools, all the kids were instantly inspired.”

FCHacks was intended for all students — experienced or not, she said. More than a quarter of the participating students registered as beginners and took workshops to learn things before they started hacking.

The group that took first place as beginner hackers created a moving robot that was able to navigate while drawing with a Sharpie.

What took Uribe by surprise was seeing students from different high schools work together and collaborate ideas and designs.

“We usually have very little interaction with other high schools, and when we do its in a very competitive scene,” Uribe said. “But at this hackathon it was much more of a collaborative competition, with many teams working together and helping each other out.”

Fox Chapel students made up roughly 50 percent of the crowd. Kids also came from South Fayette, Pine-Richland, Mount Lebanon, Shaler Area and North Allegheny.

Uribe has been interested in computer science since the sixth grade and is especially dedicated to educating girls in the field. Prior to planning the hackathon, she taught a course she called “Code Like a Girl” to the elementary school students.

“Aiming to teach younger girls to love computer science can really make a difference,” she said.

Christine Manganas is a freelance writer.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.