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Syracuse Hackathons Encourage Student Civic Engagement

By: Hailey Temple

The Upstate New York hacker community is expanding the notion of what is means to be a “hacker” beyond typing lines of code on a computer. The hackers of the Syracuse community do more than code; they design, innovate, solve problems and collaborate to create solutions that serve the community at large.

 
  iSchool graduate students Billy Ceskavich (top) and Tom Charles.

This year the Syracuse area will host several hackathons, including ProLiteracy and two Hack Upstate hackathons. The ProLiteracy hackathon, to be held September 13th and 14th, will engage teams to build solutions that support literacy and adult education around the world. While Hack Upstate does not specifically have a civic-minded mission, hackers in the past have united to create products that ultimately serve the greater good of the community.

Engagement Fellows and iSchool graduate students Tom Charles and Billy Ceskavich are actively promoting the hackathons, specifically working with Hack Upstate to prepare for the October 4 kickoff date. They will both be assisting with demos and supporting hackathon sponsors, including Evernote, Rounded, and AT&T.

After working through several Hack Upstate events, Charles has seen the mutual benefits of hosting and participating in hackathons. “Hackers are so selfless with what they do. They reach out and help one another throughout the hackathon to build something bigger than themselves and that ultimately helps serve their community in a better way,” said Charles.

Although these hackathons have achieved success by expanding the technology community and civic involvement, they are sometimes limited by the stigma of what it means to be a hacker. Ceskavich wants to expand the definition of this title beyond computer engineers and information technology students. “It’s a no-judgment environment where people come together from all backgrounds to have fun and build something. We need the engineers, but we also need great designers to help make the project look good, “ said Ceskavich. “Hackathons provide an open environment to just have fun and learn from one another, so it’s for everyone.”

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