Could York, Pennsylvania, become a future hub for technology? This weekend at the York College Hackathon, close to 150 students could bring that possibility closer to reality.
York College students Kyle Musco (a senior computer engineering major), Alyssa McDevitt (a sophomore computer engineering major), and Joe Beck (a senior electrical engineering major) have collaborated on an inaugural hackathon—“YCP Hacks”—scheduled from Friday, October 21, to Sunday, October 23, at the Yorktowne Hotel.
Sponsored by the college’s J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship, YCP Hacks will bring not only York College students together, but also students from across the country within the setting of downtown York.
What happens during a hackathon? “Basically, students will show up on Friday night. We’ll have a kickoff ceremony, then we’ll break them off into subgroups and form teams. For the next 36 hours, they’ll go to work on ideas and come up with something cool” with computer programming and coding, Musco explains.
Their creations could range from coming up with an app that helps someone locate a book in a library to ways to integrate virtual reality (VR) into learning experiences, he adds. In addition, students will also have opportunities to talk about how technology can be used to take on real-world challenges.
Through their participation, the students themselves will also gain exposure to new tech skills they might not have encountered before. “We’ll have workshops so that if people have never worked on building apps, we’ll have resources to help them get started on the basics,” McDevitt says. “We want team members to bring their different skill sets with them,” she emphasizes, noting that people who have great presentation skills or have artistic talents are as welcome as students who are masterful with coding.
York Can Lead the Way for Pennsylvania’s Tech Future
As a veteran hackathon attendee, McDevitt has traveled beyond York’s boundaries to take part in hackathons. Through these experiences, she says, she’s connected and made friends with students who attend other colleges and universities who are just as engaged with hackathons as she is.
Through Facebook, she shared the news of the York College Hackathon among her acquaintances she’s interacted with from Harvard, the University of Pennsylvania, Case Western University, Cornell, Drexel University, and others. “This year, they [my friends] voted YCP as the hackathon to attend this year,” she says. The map above, provided by YCP Hacks, shows the home of many of this year’s Hackathon participants.
Jeff Vermeulen, executive director of the J.D. Brown Center for Entrepreneurship, says that YCP Hacks is an important resource for these students. “When you see them [students] in action, sharing ideas as a group, that’s creativity unleashed when you have this concentration of talent. We’re creating that culture of entrepreneurship.”
“It exposes York to the idea that tech is a thing here, and it exposes people outside the area to the idea that York could be a tech area,” McDevitt adds.
“Events like YCP Hacks are crucial to expanding knowledge,” Beck says. “To grasp anything or get involved in something, you need to go to events, push yourself, and challenge yourself. What you learn in the classroom only takes you so far. This is what engineers need to do to change the world.”
McDevitt and Musco relate that their summer experience in Colorado at Hackacon—a conference organized by Major League Hacking—gave them the tools they needed to plan the details for YCP Hacks.
Back in York, McDevitt, Musco, and Beck collaborated on a location, settling on the Yorktowne Hotel as the venue. “I sit on the York County Economic Alliance board, and our immediate past chairman had a vision for transforming the Yorktowne into this state-of-the-art business hub,” Vermuelen says.
Incidentally, YCP Hacks will be one of the last events hosted at the hotel before its closure in November for a two-year-long revitalization and building renovation project.
Of Collaborations and Innovations
In addition to the Yorktowne Hotel’s contribution of event space, YCP Hacks has received sponsorship support from businesses such as United Fiber & Data (along with the Pennsylvania Gigabit Revolution) and organizations across York and York County. Vermeulen observes that an event like YCP Hacks has served to bring people together in awareness of what young people can contribute to conversations about technology.
“Just from my own experiences, students view the world differently. You have a collection of very smart, motivated young people who bring a fresh perspective that’s invaluable,” he says.
Musco says that the York College Hackathon will also involve some friendly competition as well. On Sunday, October 23, judges representing York-area businesses and organizations will award prizes to student teams ranging from best in show and best health hack. Similarly, the York County Community Foundation will recognize the best hacks that reflect ideas and topics such as downtown revitalization and education and workforce development.
“This event demonstrates to our community that York College is serious about promoting innovation and entrepreneurship in a real way,” Vermeulen adds.
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