CARBONDALE, Ill. (Nov. 19, 2013) – Computer fanatics and gadget experts, including five Rend Lake College computer science graduates and students, assembled earlier this month from all over Southern Illinois to participate in the first-ever HackSI event, hosted by Southern Illinois University (SIUC).
HackSI, also known as Hack Day, is a creative avenue for computer science students and grads to invent the next big thing. In fact, companies such as Google, Yahoo, Tumblr, Facebook and Twitter have hosted several similar events to recruit talent and ideas.
The 12-hour hack-a-thon hosted nearly 100 participants in the Dunn-Richmond Center of the SIUC campus. The contestants worked on various projects, from creating webpages and robots, to inventing phone and tablet apps. At the end of the day, all of the individuals and groups showed off their inventions.
Brad Helm, RLC Associate Professor of Computer Science, said there were future RLC computer science students from Benton and Mt. Vernon high schools present, in addition to the five RLC participants. He said the students created remarkable technologies for such a short amount of time.
“The hack-a-thon was where people of all ages and technical skills came together to create something new and awesome,” said Helm. “They worked individually or in teams on whatever project they thought would be cool. Some participants worked on automation and robotics projects, while others created websites using the latest internet standards. Still others wrote software ranging from Android applications to a first-person-shooter game that runs on Windows computers.”
Helm said he is planning to implement a class project that resembles a hack-a-thon in the future.
“We received some Lego Mindstorms over the summer, and we are integrating them into our coursework,” said Helm. “Likewise, many of our programming classes focus on games-based assignments and lessons to increase student interest and involvement. If my first semester Java class has time towards the end of the semester, I plan on letting them have a mini-competition as a class project.”
Ethan Richardson of Benton, an RLC grad and SIUC student, wrote his first Android app at the event, but he wasn’t the only one. Fellow RLC grad Harrison Teel, also of Benton, created an app that could process data from the Internet in realtime. Other RLC participants included David Randolph of Mt. Vernon, Jeremy Jackson of Whittington and Nick Ahlfeld of Benton.
After his 90-second preview of his invention, Alex Bryant, a high school student from Murphysboro, won the “Coolest, Most Awesome Project” Award for building a device, from scratch, which could receive messages via Bluetooth and display them on a small LED screen.
Students from Benton and Mt. Vernon also built three robots with the Lego Mindstorms at HackSI, and many other projects included an Arduino-based robot, a first-person shooter game on Windows PC, a side-scrolling game like Mario Brothers, an app that will plot information graphically for a webpage and a Nintendo Wii-mote controlled QuadCopter.
Helm said he plans to start working on a Hack Day event to bring to the RLC campus for in-district students.
“My end goal is to get a hack-a-thon to come here to RLC to serve our local schools,” said Helm. “I know it'd be a huge draw for our prospective students.”
Co-coordinator Darryl T. Jones said the event was so successful that plans are already in the works for another hack-a-thon in the area.
“We've already begun planning the next event,” said Jones. “It was great. I loved seeing how clever, passionate, focused, and hungry these kids were. We hear a lot bad about the upcoming generations, but this was an example of good. These kids really impressed me. It was a great day.”