Sunhacks provides an inclusive outlet for ASU students

Their student hackathon provides opportunities for learning and improving one's computer science skills while building a community

The Sunhacks team has cracked the code to creating a successful hackathon. 

Sunhacks is not only ASU's largest student-run hackathon, but it is also the one most committed to emphasizing community, inclusivity and personal growth.

Alli DiNapoli, a graduate student studying computer science and co-lead director of Sunhacks, described the event as more of an innovation-athon because of its focus on creation over competition.

“(Participants are) not really competing against anyone else,” DiNapoli said. “It’s about learning and growing with others. To build something new, create something new.”

Frank Liu, a doctorate student studying computer engineering and the marketing organizer for Sunhacks, said the event is vital to bringing students interested in technology in the ASU community closer together. 

“The culture is very fragmented at ASU, so it’s very difficult to make a community on campus,” Liu said. “We want to provide a framework where people can get together, grow together, learn together and have a lot of fun.”

The hackathon will go for 36 straight hours starting on Nov. 9 at ASU's Student Pavillion, and any student from any university can participate for free. 

“We want to make this event open to all college students, to provide the opportunity to students who might be afraid or hesitant towards coding,” Liu said.

As one of the founders of Sunhacks, DiNapoli’s also hopes to build a sense of community amongst like-minded people at ASU to find friends on campus and get people excited about computer science.

This is the organization’s second hackathon, and it will feature technology workshops, TechTalks from industry leaders and cutting edge equipment for participants to utilize during the event thanks to it being Major League Hacking affiliated.

“We have the MLH Hardware Lab," DiNapoli said. "It’s thousands of dollars of hardware that (participants) can use. It’s everything form VR consoles, Arduinos, to desktop computers that can run more heavy programming.”

Companies and startups will be giving technical workshops where students can learn new skills like Python and Java, or develop techniques they already know.

“People are going to obtain projects and skills to put on their resume and make connections with people in (the) industry,” DiNapoli said. 

According to Momen Abdelkarim, a sophomore studying computer science and a co-lead director of the event, Sunhacks will put ASU on the map academically.

“By having a world class hackathon, companies are able to see that ASU students can develop quality products, respect ASU and understand the quality of our engineering program,” Abdelkarim said. 

According to Abdelkarim and DiNapoli, the hackathon will also provide a place for students to apply the knowledge they learn in the classroom since the computer science major is largely theoretical. 

Sponsors of the event include Google Cloud, American Express, GoDaddy and Amazon Tempe

“These are huge companies,” Abdelkarim said. “The fact that they are willing to support us and help us students at ASU shows that they’re not only willing to invest in us, but they understand that there is a lot of potential here and that we have a good program that people should strive to join.”

Participants at the hackathon will receive free food, drinks and apparel and, according to Liu, will also gain lasting memories about their experience in computer science and hacking.

“How can we make this a positive experience and lasting impression," Liu said, "so that these students feel that hacking isn’t that scary and it might be something they pursue?"

Abdelkarim said that self-fulfillment is a large component of a successful hackathon and DiNapoli said that the liberation she felt at her first hackathon is something she wants Sunhacks participants to feel.

“It's the feeling that I did this in 36 hours, and I have the rest of my life," DiNapoli said, "(now) what can I do with that?”



Reach the reporter at mshrikan@asu.edu and follow @MayaShrikant on Twitter. 

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