Fall hack-a-thon generates unique student experience, projects

November 06, 2023

Room full of students with open laptops watch the presenters at the front of the classroom

In a marathon of brainstorming, programming and coding, nine teams developed nine unique projects in less than six hours during Quinnipiac’s fall hack-a-thon, Hack QU 2023.

Hosted by the School of Computing and Engineering each fall and spring, the November 4 hack-a-thon was organized by the Quinnipiac Computing Club. The event was sponsored by M&T Bank and UNAPEN of Meriden, Connecticut.

During the fast-ticking hours of the hack-a-thon, faculty members and club members were there to assist teams with any dead-ends or other difficulties, explained Computing Club President Julia Bock.

“They can ask us any questions,” said Bock, ’25, MS ’26, a computer science major with a Salesforce software engineering internship set for summer 2024. “I will be interning in San Francisco this summer, so I’ve come to understand a lot more about the fundamentals and how to create a good program, and so I’m hoping to relay that knowledge to the underclassmen.”

Computing Club member and computer science major Ryan Sliger ’25 MS ’26, said School of Computing and Engineering faculty have always offered exceptional support to students.

“A lot of the professors here are really good. Especially for 100-level classes, they teach a lot about behind the scenes of programming and how it actually works, instead of just how to program,” said Sliger.

Open to all levels, the hack-a-thon drew first-year through master’s students as solo competitors or in teams of four. Student competitor Marcus Ferreria, ’25, said the experience of working in a group with other students on his team was helpful.

“Even if I’m not necessarily doing the same work as everyone else, helping contribute in some way, whether it’s with the coding or with ideas and such, is a really great experience,” said Ferreria.

Ferreria’s team member Caden Effrece ’26, said working with more experienced team members, such as teammate Jonathan Mason ’24, helped raise the bar on his own capabilities.

“For me, I’m a little bit green, so it was very nice to have Jon here to help me out,” said Effrece. “The quality of my code is just so much better because he was able to give me little pointers and push me in the right direction.”

Mason said he’s been coding for a long time and has also gained a lot of experience from his computing classes and other courses at Quinnipiac. Mason applied what he learned from his music theory classes to the team’s project, a music generator.

“For our project, we had to learn this completely new library and part of Java that we never really ran into before, but because I’ve had previous experience with learning new things, I’ve been able to pick up on it really fast and get it implemented into the project,” said Mason.

Ferreria, Effrece and Mason felt their team’s project had potential for a prize-winning position at the end of the day. Gift cards were awarded for first through fourth place and in three special prize categories.

Each team had to base their project on the theme of media. The theme was revealed moments before the hack-a-thon countdown clock started ticking.

Computing Club secretary and computer science major Cole Davignon ’25 MS ’26, said dealing with a surprise theme and time crunch can actually help teams zero in quickly on a project that will work well.

“The theme is nothing incredibly challenging, so if they can get something that’s efficient and that’s a very good program done within that time frame, it’s definitely possible,” said Davignon.

Computing Club member and computer science major Brooks Jackson,’25, MS ’26, said building in such constraints helps build skills for encountering real-world scenarios.

“It’s a really good experience to have to work in that kind of time frame and practice code writing on the spot,” said Jackson.

Running into problems is not uncommon, especially during a pressure-cooker experience like a hack-a-thon, said computer science major Hayden Lacy ’26, Computing Club treasurer.

“I did hack-a-thon last year, and it was a bit of a nightmare. We ran into a lot of technical issues, like getting everyone coding on one file, so it didn’t flesh out for us that year. But knowing now how hack-a-thon works, I would have loved to be on one of these teams this year,” said Lacy.

In a full-circle moment, M&T Bank technology team member and Quinnipiac alumnus Jack Zemlanicky ’22, represented M&T Bank at the November 4 event.

Zemlanicky, who has earned his BS in computer science, is now in the second year of a two-year technology development rotational program with M&T Bank as a software developer. Zelanicky is also a former Quinnipiac hack-a-thon contestant.

“My freshman year, we won as the freshman team. Our project wasn’t very good, but there was a lot of effort put into it!” said Zemlanicky. “I think the environment of a hack-a-thon at any school is just a neat experience. It could be in the middle of the night in an academic building, and you’re all hanging out and coding.”

Judges for Hack QU 2023 were School of Computing and Engineering professors Alex Thimineur, Brian O’Neill and Chetan Jaiswal; together with Asentio co-founder and alumnus Zachary Damasco ’18 MBA ’19, and Joan Walker, Managing Director/CFO of UNAPEN.

Fueled by caffeine, donuts, pizza, and energy snacks, the teams completed their work between 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. and presented their projects to the judges during brief stand-up sessions. Prizes were awarded for first through fourth place as well as for Most Unique, Most Original, and Most Innovative.

First prize went to Team Buddy AI, for building a website, “Buddy AI” where users can select their favorite characters or celebrities and receive personalized responses reflecting the character’s authentic voice. Users can also create representative family, friends, and others for AI-prompted chats. Team Buddy AI also received the judges’ award for Most Innovative.

For its music generator program, “The Infipod,” Team Chinchilla won second prize and also received the Most Unique award. Third prize, as well as the Most Original award, went to Team Fresh W’s, for building a Wiki page for the Quinnipiac Computing Club. Fourth prize went to Team 5K for creating a video game quiz to determine the type of game a user is best suited to play.

Walker thanked all of the students who came out to compete.

“I am so impressed with every single team,” said Walker. “The amount of time you put in, and what became out of it, is amazing. I have been working with developers my entire life and I’m so impressed with everybody that’s here. Thank you all for showing up and being the next generation.”

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