By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – At the start of Saturday’s Hackathon- a problem solving competition- students were asked how many thought they had to leave the area in order to secure a job in technology. Almost every person raised his or her hand. The moment was symbolically riveting.
It was also reflective of why this past week’s Hudson Valley Tech Festival President, Yulia Ouchinnikoua, created the inaugural, direly needed and warmly embraced two-day event, ckocked-full of activities, classes and other inspiring activities aimed at connecting tech-based jobs and potential employees in the region.
“I had a dream about building a technology hub in the Hudson Valley; now we are all together, taking that first step to make this all a reality.” said Ouchinnikoua. “Because the perception is there are so few technology jobs in the area, we wanted to change that and show that it’s about making sure employers here can find the technology skills they need by an education pipeline being aligned to those needs in the area, by making sure high school and college kids graduate with those skills; the whole idea is to get the conversation going.”
That dialogue was apparent at Saturday’s afternoon segment, held at Mount Saint Mary College’s Kaplan Recreation Center, where secondary level students from Newburgh and Middletown, took part in a Hackathon, diligently troubleshooting technology issues in their surrounding area. Working together in teams, the middle and high school students worked on such critical issues as; water pollution, technology availability as well as accessible public transportation. Collaborating and developing ways to mesh technology with deciphering needs, the youth then approached ways technology could best assist those issues, making for efficiency, and with it, economic growth.
“Our issue is the younger generation is no longer involved in the technology process, how things are made, so we came up with a center collaboration space where you can come to learn from each other,” explained Manny Soto about his teams’ project. “The idea is to start kids at a younger age, so by the time they get to their junior or senior year, they can easily transition to technology fields and fill in the gaps of the jobs as well as create economic growth and more job availability.”
Meanwhile Zoe Graves’ Newburgh Free Academy P-TECH squad was intensely at work, figuring out ways to solve the public transportation challenges facing the City of Newburgh. Not only were she and her teammates gaining glaringly disturbing details about the ways a lack of transportation affects the economy of their City, but they were also accruing priceless life and job skills along the way.
“I liked how today we were able to connect with people in a new way in order to solve issues in an area we all live in,” said Graves. “The transportation issue affects all of us, and it feels good to know, our work could actually be used to make life better for people.”
Graves was alluding to the possibility that top teams’ solutions not only earned members monetary rewards, but also had the possibility of being implemented in real life, something that excited each of the participants, making learning meaningful and memorable. In addition to the Hackathon, Saturday’s segment further featured “Lightening Talks,” five minute rapid verbiage on a vast range of pertinent technology topics. The highly productive afternoon rounded out with Hackathon presentations and judging.
Friday’s segment, held at the Great Hall of the SUNY Orange extension in Newburgh, was more of a conference format, including; Keynote Speaker, Dr. James Hendler, discussing artificial intelligence as well as panel discussions and lightening talks centered upon highly relevant technology issues. It too, catering to an older audience, centered upon making technology powerfully relevant as well as fiscally productive in the region.
Regardless of the day attended or the specific event participants engaged in, that link of education, technology and job opportunity conversation Ouchinnikoua yearned to see happening in the Hudson Valley, was alive and well last Friday and Saturday in Newburgh. The hope is the chatter will continue, perceptions will alter, and perhaps next year, when the question is posed about how many feel a need to exit the area to find technology jobs, far fewer hands will be raised.