By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – This time it was personal, making the laser-focus and unbridled energy that went into it pure magic.
On October 23 and 24, the Hudson Valley Tech Festival, featuring the youth Hackathon, took place virtually. Composed of young people, both locally as well as spanning the globe, the technology driven, creative-laden troubleshooting cerebral challenge, also included adult mentors. This year’s topic to tackle was a Social Distance Challenge, requiring participants to configure “out-of-the-box” means to navigate the multiple restrictions placed on society during these unique times. Whether it be the emotional, social or educational consequences created by this unprecedented Pandemic, teams were presented with configuring ways to best survive, even flourish, using the power of technology.
The intense, two day event kicked off with Special Guest Speaker, Julie (“Brain Lady”), who discussed people’s varying brain structures as well as accompanying strengths. Thinking warm up exercises were then given to youth, who proceeded to pitch 60 second ideas. Such topics as; creating an application to assist people with depression, another to guide students with learning disabilities with on-line learning using games, and still another aimed at a platform for kids to reach volunteers for homework and other school help as they try their best to learn virtually were presented. Next, eight teams formed. Adults were assigned to each one, facilitating with solutions for each of the challenges embedded in our new social distancing reality. After many hours of arduous work- both on the subject matter as well as technological pieces- youth presented their findings to the judges. Deeply affected by social distancing, each of the students was prompted to passionately engage in delving into any potential solutions.
“This event not only brought the youth together, but ignited a real entrepreneurial spirit as well as collaboration,” explained Yulia Ovchinnikova, the event’s founder. “The kids are really struggling with not seeing friends and missing school, so this is really a personal challenge, allowing them to feel empowered to help change the world through technology.”
It’s that very spirit that Ovchinnikova was intent upon developing when she first created the Festival. Coming to the United States a few years back, Ovchinnikova, who has her Masters in Computer Science and PhD in Economics, tried relentlessly to find her “tribe” of technology people here in the Hudson Valley, but as an outsider, kept coming up short.
“Technology people are unique; they can be very open and meet through doing projects together,” said Ovichinnikova. “So, I said let’s bring people together under technology and entrepreneurship by creating projects to work on together; it’s all about collaboration, so I created an OpenHub.”
Attracting over 500 people to her Open Hub, Ovchinnikova was convinced that technology does exist right here in the Hudson Valley, despite many people’s perceptions to the contrary. The events she has held, including this year’s Hackathon, are truly beginning to get that message out and loudly heard.
This year’s Hackathon winner (The Space Track Team that built a website to help students prioritize their tasks in the new virtual environment) won $500, a three hour mentorship as well as technology training; the runnerup (Jobs for You, a working prototype for providing job opportunities for low-wage workers) walked away with $300. In addition to these two categories, three other awards were offered. Participants logged in from SUNY New Paltz and Marist as well as far away as India, Spain, Russia and Morrocco. The technology buzz is alit here, and it looks promising to be ablaze in the future.
“I found the Hackathon on Devpost, and thought it was time I take a step outside of my comfort zone,” said Anish Ganesh, one of the members of the Remote Learning Application that won Best “Ed Tech” Hack. “It really paid off.”
To learn more about OpenHub and ways to connect with people involved in technology ideas and happenings here in the Hudson valley, log onto: openhubproject.com.