YCP Hacks 2017: Empowering students to pursue their curiosities
YCP Hacks, York College’s inaugural hackathon, was just getting under way last year when two students came to Engineering Professor Don Hake with a simple question.
“They said, ‘How do you come up with good ideas?’” recalls Professor Hake, one of the event’s mentors.
He suggested the students think about day-to-day happenings and ask themselves if there is a different way of doing it or tackling a problem from personal experience and then solving it.
About a half an hour later, the students came back to him and said, “We’ve got an idea.”
The two decided to develop an electronic bike-lock alert system.
“Their idea was an alarm sounding right there at the bike if someone tampered with it, whether by cutting the lock or from too many combination attempts,” Professor Hake says. “Over the course of the hackathon, they built an electronic prototype that showed this thing could work.”
Solving real-world problems
That’s the point of YCP Hacks: to turns ideas into action, like the team who built the bike-lock alert system.
“It’s basically 150 student developers, designers, and entrepreneurs coming together for 36 hours creating new ways to solve real-world problems,” says Dylan Quigley, a York College student and one of this year’s event organizers.
You don’t need to know code. You don’t need to know programming. You don’t have to be a major in Computer Science.
“If you have an interest in innovative technology or a simple curiosity for building and problem solving,” Professor Hake says, “you have what it takes.”
“It’s a very supportive atmosphere,” he says.
Here are some details about the event:
- YCP Hacks 2017 begins Friday, Oct. 20, and ends on Sunday, Oct. 22.
- It takes place at The Willman Business Center of York College and is presented, in part, by the J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship and the Graham School of Business.
- It’s open to any student, in any major, from any school in the country.
- It includes contests and speakers, plus competitive sponsor challenges to solve problems or crack codes.
- On Sunday, Hacks are presented to a panel of judges who award prizes.
To Dylan, though, the event is much bigger than the prizes.
“I’d say it’s more collaborative than it is competitive,” he says.
More than anything, according to Oscar Winters, associate director of the J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship, the event is about putting students in a position to be innovative.
"YCP Hacks provides students the opportunity to create something brand new, from scratch, in a matter of days," he said. "It also gives us the chance to identify motivated students we can assist in taking their idea to the next level."
Intense, instantaneous innovation
“The primary purpose of a hackathon is to spark innovation,” says Dr. James Norrie, Dean of the Graham School of Business. “You want to give an idea just the right twist to make the rest of us look at it and say, 'Why didn’t I think of that?'”
“Students spend all day and all night working on their idea,” Dr. Norrie says, “developing their prototype, refining it, testing it, playing with it, and getting it ready for Sunday’s presentation to the judges.”
The process teaches the real-world lesson that a good idea doesn’t have to have a lot of structure around fundraising, or business plans, or a whole bunch of prerequisites.
“If you can bootstrap your idea and get it to a working prototype, then you can test that idea with markets, customers, or investors,” Dr. Norrie says. “A hackathon shows you how to harness intense, instantaneous innovation as a way of quickly taking your idea and determining if it is worth carrying forward.”
The audacity of the solution
Whether it’s crime-related solutions or health-based applications, social-entrepreneurship is a hotbed of activity in the job market right now.
Potential employers love the dynamics of a hackathon because students demonstrate how they would attack a problem, how they respond to pressure, and how they handle working within a team.
“If you’re an employer, that’s much more valuable than a formal setting with a set of interview questions,” Professor Hake says.
Dylan is quick to point out that YCP Hacks is for groups, as well as individuals.
“There’s no need to arrive as a team,” he says. “Individuals come, too. They either work on their own or find themselves as part of a team as they begin to meet people.”
Dr. Norrie’s hope for participants in attendance this year is that they feel empowered to pursue their curiosities far beyond what they know.
“It’s really all about the audacity of the solution,” he says, “and your ability to pull it off.”