’Deis Hacks blends digital fabrication and design with social impact

February 7, 2020

Ever wanted to make a direct social impact on the Waltham community? Interested in fusing design with real world solutions? If so, ‘Deis Hacks is a program worth noting. ‘Deis Hacks, hosted by the Brandeis MakerLab and partnered with the Brandeis International Business School (IBS) and the Brandeis Library, is a “24-hour design competition targeted at real world solutions,” according to its website. A business course at Brandeis is directly involved with participating in the project.

Teresa Campos ’21 is a politics and business double major, serving as a teaching assistant (TA) for Professor Gene Miller’s (BUS) course titled “Leadership Internships in Social Impact Organizations,” which is involved in this year’s ‘Deis Hacks. The course spans the length of a full year and involves students being assigned to local Waltham organizations, such as The Waltham Day Center or More Than Words, wrote Campos in an email to The Brandeis Hoot. The students also participate in ‘Deis Hacks each year.

For Campos, ‘Deis Hacks is essentially “a hackathon that is focused on social good.” According to the event’s website, ‘Deis Hacks is a “social design challenge” that sources hack-challenges from “30 or so not-for-profits and social enterprise organizations local to Waltham.” The event differs from other hackathon challenges in that the theme of the event is to “fuse design thinking, digital fabrication and social impact to work on real world solutions for non-profit companies.” 

“Each hackathon team will choose a design challenge from Waltham’s diverse non-profit community they find compelling to focus on,” as stated on the ‘Deis Hacks website.

Doors will open for ‘Deis Hacks on Saturday, Feb. 8 at 8 a.m. After opening ceremonies and lectures from local experts and non-profit leaders on topics “ranging from technical tools and workflows to ethical and policy implications of emerging technologies,” hackers stay in the Farber Library overnight to work on their hacks, according to the ‘Deis Hacks website. They have until 10 a.m. the next day to finish their projects, and then a panel of judges “including community activists, technology specialists and educators will judge the project pitches on how well they satisfy the needs of the non-profit, as well as on Complexity, Creativity, Originality, Adherence to the Challenge, and a Popular Vote,” according to the event’s website. Finally, there are closing ceremonies to announce the winners and award prizes.

As Campos explained, once the students are paired with a “host” organization, they start to work under the executive director of the organization as a “Board Fellow.” The goals of the class are to have the Board Fellows “serve as junior non-voting members of the board of directors and then have them work closely with the organization to take on some sort of project that meets whatever the need of the organizations are at the time,” wrote Campos in an email.

Campos took Miller’s course last year and worked with the Charles River Community Health Center, and stated that her project “focused on financial sustainability as well as developing new marketing strategies.” Campos’ project at ‘Deis Hacks last year was focused on actively portraying the needs of the health center to donors. This is a tricky task as it doesn’t necessarily express a huge impact on the community to purchase specific machines for the center, she explained, although it would allow the provision of healthcare services to members of the Waltham community. Her group worked to create a “virtual reality tour experience for our donors to be showcased at donor events” and also looked at improving the health center’s website, she said. “Both of these hacks were interesting because they were a unique approach to financial sustainability where we learned how to use, for the first time, virtual reality software which expands outside of your usual fundraising mechanisms.”

The course’s goals fit in well with ‘Deis Hacks, said Campos, as “we like to focus on the social good aspect, this differentiates [‘Deis Hacks] from other hackathons that are usually limited to specifically creating something new with one specific and similar goal while also creating something that is going to help the community. Instead, each group in the hackathon works on a hack for different organizations of the 14 that our Board Fellows work with.” Similarly, because the hack revolves around the needs of the organization, it is much more specific and prevents students from working on the same tasks.

Campos, who is also a coordinator for Afternoon Enrichment within the Waltham Group, a coordinator for Admissions Diversity Fly-Ins and an Atlanta Posse Scholar, aims to attend law school after Brandeis, but notes that being involved in ‘Deis Hacks “is an experience that can prove to be impactful in any sector any of us go into.” Campos said that the root of the hack itself is to apply allotted resources “without really any limitations, and creating some sort of aid that enables social good and well being.”

“I think the core mindset of the event innately teaches you how to selflessly use your own personal skill set, regardless of your background in order to create something that many people will benefit from,” explained Campos in an email to The Hoot. “I think this is very important because so often we are sent into the real world with a very individualistic mindset, but participating in this event reminds you that while you will use your skill set in your everyday job, it can also be used as a real resource to share with people who may not have direct access to the background or experiences we have.”

Campos has enjoyed serving as a TA for the class, as she gets to view the class from a different perspective than when she was a Board Fellow. “Watching the current Board Fellows and learn[ing] about their work with their organizations is inspiring,” wrote Campos, as each student in the class shows how the class both attracts and develops leaders who are committed to their host organizations and “work endless hours to ensure they provide quality projects to feed back into the organizations.” For her, the only challenge she faces, which she deems a “great one to have,” is keeping up with the pace of the Board Fellows and making sure to help them with feedback, showcasing for her the commitment that the students have both to the class and the community.

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