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NJIT Students Participate in Women's International Hackathon

FRONT ROW: Judith Sheft, Associate VP for Technology Development; Xin Gao, doctoral candidate in Computer Science; Brenda Castillo, '16, BS Computer Science; Yao Wu, '14, MS, Electrical and Computer Engineering; Ma'at Engram, '17, BS Civil and Environmental Engineering; Di Tang, '14, MS, Computer Science. MIDDLE ROW: Anish Desai, President and Founder of Symphony Solutions, Inc.; Ann D. Hoang, Assistant University Librarian at the Van Houten Library; Michel Bitritto, Director, NJIT Technology & Entrepreneurship Talent Network; Laura Odhiambo (Rutgers-NJIT '15) Computer Science; Lynda Nwankwo, '15, Information Technology; Darren Bryden, CIO/Director of Information Technology for the City of Elizabeth, NJ; BACK ROW: Nancy Steffen-Fluhr, Director, Murray Center for Women in Technology; AT&T Senior Technical Staff Member, Spondon Dey.

NJIT's Murray Center for Women in Technology hosted the Women's International Hackathon, part of an international crowdsourcing event sponsored by Microsoft Research Connections to encourage young women to become producers of future innovations in technology.

From April 25 to 27, female teams from 46 universities in the US and around the world tackled the contest challenges, connecting to each other live via the Internet. The NJIT Hackathon team built a mobile social networking app and a linked website designed to encourage young women to enter STEM fields and, more generally, to jump-start an online community of girls in technology. They worked 46 hours straight without sleep, building a social networking application and website to empower girls to flex their technological muscle. 

The Hackathon organizers challenged the teams to develop a technological solution to one of two stubborn social problems: 1) distracted driving by teenagers; or 2) the paucity of women entering science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields. The seven women who made up the NJIT team had never met each other until the contest began on Friday night, but they bonded immediately around their shared experiences as females in STEM. They knew what they wanted to do: "If a girl wants to go into fine arts, she doesn't think twice about it," said Information Technology major Lynda Nwankwo, '15. "But when it comes to STEM, all the pressure of society suddenly comes into play. There's a wrong perception that STEM is nerdy but it's actually one of the coolest fields you can get into in school, and after school....We're building an application to help younger women feel comfortable in the STEM world."

On Sunday afternoon, the team members presented their work to representatives from business, government, and education, including: AT&T Senior Technical Staff Member, Spondon Dey; Darren Bryden, CIO/Director of Information Technology for the City of Elizabeth, NJ; Anish Desai, President and Founder of Symphony Solutions, Inc.; Ann D. Hoang, Assistant University Librarian at NJIT's Van Houten Library; Michel Bitritto, Director, NJIT Technology & Entrepreneurship Talent Network; and Judith Sheft, Associate VP for Technology Development at NJIT. Di Tang summed up the team's message: "The app we've made will help girls talk to each other and share ideas all over the world. It's important for them to know that STEM is powerful. You can do what you want and make a beautiful life for yourself...and for the entire world."