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Hack Dearborn - Disrupt Reality: A Campus Hackathon Like No Other

Updated: Nov 7, 2023

Anika Raisa Chowdhury, Staff Writer

Organizing Team and Winners of Hack Dearborn with the campus buddy Bruce the Goose. Photo//Major League Hacking

On the crisp early morning of October 21, 200 people filled the UM-Dearborn's University Center, eagerly awaiting the weekend of innovation about to occur. The stage was set for one of the most anticipated events of the year, Hack Dearborn, an extraordinary campus hackathon.

A hackathon is an innovation-driven event that brings together individuals, often with diverse backgrounds and skill sets, to collaboratively tackle real-world challenges using technology. Participants, sometimes referred to as "hackers," work within a limited time frame, typically 24-48 hours, to design, code and create innovative projects or solutions. Hackathons can be hosted virtually as well as in person, and they foster creativity, problem-solving, and teamwork, and they often result in the development of new software, hardware or applications. Projects built at hackathon may gain the attention of individuals or organizations willing to provide funding, helping innovators make their way into the industry.

Hackathons can cover a wide range of topics and are not limited to tech-savvy individuals; they are open to anyone eager to learn, experiment, and bring their ideas to life, making them an exciting and inclusive experience for all.

Hack Dearborn is an annual event that is open for all currently enrolled college students, including those who are beginners in the field of technology. The hackathon is designed to accommodate participants from a wide range of majors, and there are workshops available to assist non-technical students in getting started and creating innovative projects.

Pre-Hackathon moments. Photo// Regan Maharjan

Prior to the main event, a short pre-hackathon event was conducted on October 13 at the sponsor Grand Circus’s office in Detroit. During this event, participants socialized, familiarized and learned about the hackathon format and geared up for the main event. A series of workshops were also conducted to help participants get acquainted with technical tools. Rosy Shrestha introduced Flutter in a Workshop, Maryam Tello conducted a workshop focused on backend implementation using the OpenAI API, and Souad Omar talked about the basics of Figma.

In the heart of the fall season, the two-day long hackathon event brought together bright college students, sponsors and organizers in a fusion of technology, creativity and fun. The theme, "Disrupt Reality," set the tone for an experience that would go beyond traditional hackathons. Participants weren't just competing; they were on a mission to change the world. The atmosphere was electric, and it was clear that this event was more than just a hackathon.

Kicking off the Hackathon. Photo//Huda Hussaini

Organizing a hackathon is akin to launching a startup due to shared characteristics, such as a focus on innovation and ideation, tight timeframes, problem-solving, teamwork, scouting for sponsors, mentorship, networking and a strong emphasis on product development. Both settings involve competition and offer opportunities for learning and growth, making hackathons an excellent platform for organizers to simulate the entrepreneurial spirit and creative problem-solving required in the startup world.

The event kicked off with check-in at 10 a.m., followed by a Sponsor and Software Fair. Sponsors set up engaging booths to introduce attendees to their services, products, and most importantly, enticing career opportunities for students. In tandem at Kochoff C, there were even opportunities for professional headshots and exciting AR and VR technology demos. Tau Beta Pi and Society of Women Engineers organizations also joined the fun, showcasing their projects alongside AI Futures, Yazaki, and the Intelligent Systems Club.

Opening Ceremony. Photo//Major League Hacking

The opening ceremony at 11 a.m. marked the commencement of an exciting journey. The core organizing team (Shams Ahson, Huda Hussaini, Shouryan Nikam, Faith Long and Rohit Nair) presented the tracks participants could submit their projects, focusing on health and wellness, automotive future, education and financial inclusion. Alongside the projects, there was also a Capture the Flag (CTF) cybersecurity competition designed by Professor Birhanu Eshete and Shams Ahson, which included cybersecurity puzzles from trivia to cryptography, forensics, web exploitation, steganography, and binary reversing.

Steve Brennan from Carhartt, Bob Kaster from Bosch, Keith Faigin from Little Caesars and Mara from Major League Hacking (MLH) also spoke at the opening ceremony. MLH, a global community, assists hackathon organizers with event logistics, sponsorship, and code of conduct, fostering inclusive and well-organized hackathons. They provide resources and technical support and promote hackathons, creating a supportive community for student developers and participants worldwide. Sponsors also took the stage to unveil the challenges they had in store for the students and gave exciting welcoming keynote speeches. These challenges were designed to push the boundaries of innovation and creativity.

The Dean of Computer Engineering and Computer Science Department, Ghassan Kridil, addressed the gathering, highlighting the event's incredible geographical diversity. Participants hailed from University of Windsor, Michigan Tech University, University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Eastern Michigan University, Oakland University, Kettering University, Bowling Green State University, Michigan State University, and even the University of Florida. The event's reach left everyone mesmerized with over 200 students in attendance throughout.

Technical mentor panel. Photo//Huda Hussaini

After the ceremony, the hacking sessions commenced, fueled by a scrumptious lunch. Students joined forces to brainstorm their project ideas over meals, and professional mentors were on hand to provide guidance. The Design Club, a UM-Dearborn student organization, was also present to mentor participants with any presentation assistance.

Design Club mentoring participant. Photo//Major League Hacking

The hackathon offered an array of workshops and gaming activities. Participants learned about Google's generative AI services, explored Vertex AI, and enjoyed fun project demos. Students had the opportunity to dive into the world of Flutter and iOS programming. The evening featured an introduction to the martial art Jiu Jitsu, providing an engaging opportunity to hackers and organizers to get up from their computers. The participants also engaged in a fun cup stacking competition, showcasing their skills beyond coding.

Jiu Jitsu Session. Photo//Major League Hacking

As the clock struck midnight, the fun continued. Cotton candy, a lively Jeopardy game night and a relaxing atmosphere was the order of the evening, ensuring everyone had a great time.

Workshops & Activities at Hack Dearborn. Photo//Major League Hacking

Day two began with a breakfast, followed by last-minute touch-ups and presentation preparations by participants before judging. Teams pushed their limits, debugging, refining their projects, and preparing for the final presentations. After submissions on Devpost and a well-deserved lunch break, the demonstrations and judging began.

Demonstration & Judging Sessions. Photo//Major League Hacking & Regan Maharjan

Amidst the intense coding sessions and innovative brainstorming, participants rose to the challenge, and exceptional projects emerged.

The closing ceremony was a celebration of the hackathon participant's achievements. The University's beloved campus buddy, Bruce the Goose, made a special appearance, distributing stickers and posing for photos. Organizers delighted the audience with a light-hearted video summarizing the two-day extravaganza, and the winners were announced.

In the "Beginner Track," Team WhoCAN secured victory and received the Keychron Mechanical Keyboard for their innovative solution that simplifies the voter's journey.

On the Financial Inclusion front, MoneyMasters earned recognition and were awarded a Yeti mic for their live web application designed to enhance financial literacy.

The Education Track saw Team Axess taking the lead with a presentation-creation tool powered by AI and got a Keurig Coffee Machine as a prize.

Eye Nutrifit triumphed in the Health & Wellness Track, introducing an AI-based approach to decipher the nutritional details of meals and were awarded Fitbit Versa 2 Smartwatches.

Lastly, in the Automotive Track, RoadEntertainment clinched the position of the winner and earned hoverboards.

These winners brought fresh ideas and solutions to the table, making the hackathon an unforgettable success.

But that's not all—the ultimate title of "Overall Winner" went to SnapBite, who also secured the "Best Tech Domain Award." Their web-based app, employing a plate-to-pic model, offers instant nutritional assessments of food images. Their innovation led the way in the hackathon's innovative journey, highlighting the impact of fusing technology with practicality. Each team member got an iPad (10th GEN) as a reward.

Among other notable achievements, EduVenture secured the first runner-up position, showcasing a career exploration process through a captivating adventure game earning Bose headphones. Additionally, PeacePulse stood out by fostering unity and understanding, providing a platform for constructive dialogue during the Gaza and Israel conflict and emerged as the second runners up. PeacePulse got a Nintendo Switch as a prize.

The CTF challenge winner was Hackymchackface with 3130 points. The Yazaki Challenge was won by the team composed of Shashanka, Chanchal, Amritha and Praful from UM-Dearborn. The winners of CTF challenge were awarded with NORDVPN, NORDPASS, and INCOGNI subscriptions.

These achievements reflect the essence of Hack Dearborn 2 — bringing brilliant minds together to disrupt reality and create solutions that matter.

The event concluded with raffle draws and a sense of accomplishment. It was an unforgettable experience that left everyone tired but smiling. Hack Dearborn: Disrupt Reality was more than a competition; it was a celebration of creativity, collaboration, and innovation, reflecting the potential of young minds to change the world.

Closing Ceremony. Photo//Major League Hacking

Hackathons are not just about competition; they are about learning and growth. The participants of Hack Dearborn had the privilege of being mentored by experienced industry professionals who provided guidance, insights, and valuable feedback. It was a unique opportunity for students to connect with potential mentors, gain industry knowledge, and expand their professional networks.

Hack Dearborn 2: Disrupt Reality was not just a hackathon; it was a glimpse into the future. It showcased the potential of young innovators to address complex problems and drive positive change.

Thank you to the wonderful Hack Dearborn organizing team for pulling off this event not only once, but twice this year, with the first one occurring in March! The March event was organized by a committee of only six members, including Shouryan Nikam, Shams Ahson, Huda Hussaini, Faith Long, Rohit Nair, and Eejoy Lim. However, for the second event, the team expanded, welcoming new members Poornaditya Mishra, Zahraa Alhmood, Rosy Shrestha, Souad Omar, Shashanka Prajapati, Ali Al Zein, Sumia Saleh, Husniyah Alam Alyamama Abdo, Fatima Qasem, Kanika Mohan, Maryam Tello, Morgan Pruitt, Abdul Khan, Regan Maharajan and Amrit Minocha to the organizing committee.

It's a fantastic opportunity for students with diverse backgrounds and interests to come together, learn from each other, and collaborate on building something remarkable, regardless of their level of technical expertise. This inclusive approach ensures that everyone can participate and contribute to the event's creative and collaborative atmosphere.

I wonder what Google Developer Student Club will do for the third annual Hack Dearborn next fall…

Hack Dearborn photo booth. Photo//Huda Hussaini

Hack Dearborn Organizers with CECS Dean Ghassan Kridli. Photo//Faith Long

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