HWS Hackathon - Hobart and William Smith Colleges
The HWS Update
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HWS Hackathon

In an engaging 24-hour event, the HWS Hackathon brought together 48 students — representing 14 teams and all class years — to brainstorm and present social innovation solutions to address the issue of substance abuse and addiction, particularly that of opioid drugs in the Finger Lakes region and nationally.

Guided by insights from industry professionals from Yates, Ontario and Monroe counties and othHackathon_1er community leaders, the Hackathon was co-sponsored by Centennial Center for Leadership (CCL) and the Colleges’ Entrepreneurial Studies Program.

“It was a rewarding experience to see students so enthusiastic about problem-solving and this type of intellectual inquiry,” says CCL Associate Director Amy Forbes.

The Hackathon included two keynote speakers: Jennifer Faringer, the director of DePaul’s National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence for the Rochester area and chair of the Monroe County Opioid Task Force; and Svante Myrick, Ithaca’s mayor and HWS Presidential Fellow. The opioid epidemic is an issue central to Myrick’s plan to diminish heroin use in Ithaca. He proposed and implemented one of the nation’s first supervised injection facilities in Ithaca. Perspectives on the issue were also shared by three local prevention center directors, two Geneva Police Department detectives, staff from a community residence of the Finger Lakes Addictions Counseling & Referral Agency and treatment courts, and the mother of a son with a substance use disorder.

“The energy that the students directed toward understanding and then addressing this year’s issue — the opioid crisis — was a result of the connection that they made with the two keynotes and local roundtable experts,” Forbes says. “The time spent with these experts gave students insights into the challenges that exist for those who are engaged in the crisis. Students worked for 24 hours on ideas that could reshape how we treat pain, educate individuals and prevent drug abuse and overdose. We were impressed with the quality of presentations and the variety of ideas.”

Dominique DeRubeis ’18, a member of the winning team which also included Gabriel Pietrorazio ’20 and Raven Jiang ’18, says the competition was a significant learning experience.

Her team’s idea, “Power through Pain,” proposed to reevaluate the curriculum on pain management at major medical schools. It would be a federally funded institute that backs research for alternative treatments to pain and teaches medical students the methods.

DeRubeis enjoyed hearing from social workers and building mutual relationships with community partners. “I am continuously greatly encouraged that people are committed to working together to make our local community a better place,” DeRubeis says.

The two runner up teams were Socio-Pathways to Success with Ethan Mattos ’17, Paul Ciaccia ’15 and Kayla Jones ’17; and ESSOP with Saoirse Scott ’19, Lester Gamez ’19 and Channel Whitney Campbell ’18. Other teams participating teams were Czechmate, MCC, Hack City, SLLC Quest, Einsteins, Social Justice League, Rizky Business, Awesome Alligators, HWS Debae Team, and The Pioneers. For a complete list of teams, participants and their ideas, visit the Hackathon proposals page.

While DeRubeis’ team, The Rebels, hadn’t met each other until the competition itself, others had worked together before, for example, Czechmate was comprised of all members of Hobart hockey.

During the event, participants convened for a crash course in public speaking and pitching their ideas with Kaylyn O’Brien ’12, CCL coordinator of leadership programming. Forbes, CCL Director Susan Pliner and Assistant Professor of Entrepreneurial Studies Craig Talmadge were also available.

Director of Geneva’s Office of Neighborhood Initiatives Sage Gerling, one of the three judges for the competition, says the winning teams were chosen for their innovative solutions, ability to pinpoint a source of the problem, and feasibility of implementation. Gerling was joined by Drury MacKenzie ’03 and Sarah Heieck ’97 from AVANGRID and Pfizer Pharmaceuticals, respectively. The winning team received $500 and the two runners up won $200.

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