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Brandeis University ignites creativity at the seventh annual DeisHacks event

Organized jointly by the Brandeis MakerLab and the Brandeis International Business School, DeisHacks 2024 marked the seventh annual hackathon for students to make positive social impacts in local communities. Taking place from Jan. 26-28, 2024, this hybrid event blended in-person activities held at the Brandeis Library with remote participation via the hackathon’s Discord channel, which is also used as DeisHacks’ central communication hub. This platform enabled cooperation among students from Brandeis and those from other institutions as well. Students collaborated with nonprofits, applying their classroom knowledge to real-world scenarios. Specifically, students worked on projects aimed at addressing the challenges encountered by these organizations and suggesting solutions that would make meaningful impacts on the individuals they seek to assist. In partnership with 18 local non-profit organizations, participants of DeisHacks delved into an array of challenges spanning sustainability, education, fashion, health and much more.

This year, PegaSystems, a company that specializes in developing software for customer engagement, sponsored the entire prize pool of $4,000 for the event. Teams competed for the top hackathon prize of $1,000, along with six additional prizes of $500 each.

Six of the winning groups were awarded $500 each in the categories of Best Technical, Best Non-Technical, Best Marketing, Highest Organizational Impact, Best Use of Emerging Technology and Hidden Gem. 

The project proposal that won the top prize of $1,000 for Best Overall involved implementing an escape room at the the Charles River Museum in Waltham, Mass. The team consisted of Isabelle Yang ’27, Marie Amandine Reyes ’27 and Tobei Nakajima ’27. Initially, they had intended to undertake a project with “More Than Words.” However, upon realizing that several other groups had also selected this option, they opted to switch to The Charles River Museum. By implementing an escape room feature into the museum, the team sought to attract a younger audience, acknowledging the museum’s challenge in appealing to this demographic. 

Reflecting on the experience, Amandine Reyes stated “Honestly, I couldn’t have asked for a better team. For some reason we all worked really well together even though we had just met that weekend. Sometimes when you join something just because, it ends up being one of the best decisions of your life.” 

To ensure the success of the event, the project managers at DeisHacks undertook a crucial behind-the-scenes role in organizing the activities that contribute to its success. In an interview with DeisHacks’ project managers Erica Hwang ’25 and Vincent Calia-Bogan ’25, they discussed the core objectives, recent advancements of DeisHacks, and their firsthand observations from this year’s event.

Since its inception seven years ago, the event has gained legitimacy within the Brandeis community, attracting a diverse range of participants from various academic disciplines. Hwang and Calia-Bogan underscored the importance of expelling misconceptions about DeisHacks, emphasizing that coding skills are not a prerequisite for participation. Instead, the event welcomes students from all backgrounds, fostering interdisciplinary collaboration and critical thinking. Calia-Bogan explains “statistically speaking, you don’t really stand to have any sort of disadvantage if you don’t like heavy coding your project, versus if you do.”

Upon reviewing this year’s event, Hwang and Calia-Bogan observed a rise in the student retention rate from last year. This indicates a significant number of students who remained engaged throughout the entire event and completed a project, signaling an increasing interest in social impact initiatives among the student body. 

In their capacity as project managers, Hwang and Calia-Bogan engaged with various teams during the event, offering suggestions and exchanging ideas. As a result, they acquired insight into the overarching objectives of the participating students during the event. According to Hwang, “they’re not just doing it for the competition or for their resume; they’re doing it because they want to actually create something helpful for the non-profits. That’s always super cool, because it really aligns with Brandeis’ values by making a social impact and serving the community with their critical thinking.”

Hwang shouts out the “amazing team” at DeisHacks, specifically the co-founders, Professor Gene Miller and Ian Roy. Hwang also acknowledges the contributions of Jamie Pippin, a TA for Business 297C at Brandeis. Calia-Bogan concludes by saying “shout out to the team and a big thank you to everybody who participated.” 

In the future, Calia-Bogan will be stepping down as one of the project managers at DeisHacks to focus on his senior thesis. Hwang will continue as a project manager and they are both excited to see where Hwang will take this program.

Editor’s Note: Staff Writer Vincent Calia-Bogan ’25 did not participate in the writing or editing of this article.

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