CSE hosts first annual Hack Day for Nebraska middle, high school students

Sep 25, 2019      By Victoria Grdina

Students at CSE Hack Day participate in an Escape Room Challenge activity.
Students at CSE Hack Day participate in an Escape Room Challenge activity.

The Department of Computer Science and Engineering hosted its first annual CSE Hack Day on Saturday, September 21.

CSE Hack Day is a day-long hackathon event for Nebraska middle and high school students. Eighty-eight students from 40 different schools registered for the event. They were able to attend for free thanks to sponsorship from Sandhills Global and Mutual of Omaha.

CSE Hack Day was designed for students of all skill levels interested in expanding their computing knowledge. Students had the option to spend the day working on a coding project by themselves or with other attendees and a CSE mentor, if needed. They could also take breaks from coding to attend interactive workshops about drones, robotics, and cybersecurity.  

Event and recruitment coordinator Jenna Huttenmaier was surprised by the level of engagement and enthusiasm she saw from attendees throughout the day. 

“The more advanced students came up with projects that would rival those we see in collegiate-level competitions,” she said. “The entry-level students appreciated workshops like ‘Intro to Coding’ and being coached through projects by our current CSE students.”

Huttenmaier said the main purpose of the event was to inspire younger students with an interest in computing to keep learning and pursuing opportunities, as it may someday lead them down a path to career success.

“Our goal is to encourage all youth to learn these skills because that’s where the jobs are. Our computer science, computer engineering, and software engineering students are highly sought after by industry,” Huttenmaier said. “Hopefully CSE Hack Day will help attract students from a variety of backgrounds into this field.”

As part of that effort, the day also included a panel of CSE students and industry professionals from Sandhills and Mutual of Omaha who shared their experiences as students and employees in the computing field. Goodrich Middle School computer science teacher Valerie Lackey said the panel helped students envision themselves there in the future.

“For our students to see someone closer to their age, to see kids from different backgrounds, and especially for girls to see other girls doing coding things, it sends a powerful message,” Lackey said.

At the end of the day, students presented their projects to other attendees. A panel of judges determined and honored the top four projects:
1. Communitive Learning by Avery Penn (Lincoln East)
2. Fantasy Marbles Developers by Nicholas Lauver and Caleb Mastromonaco (Papillion-La Vista South)
3. RGB(raid); by AJ Richerson (University of Nebraska High School), Ian Fuelberth (VJ Angela Skutt), Jerick Svec (Lincoln Southwest), Robert Taylor (VJ Angela Skutt), Zack Holloway (Broken Bow)
4. Brooke by Brooke Bode (Hershey)

Though the top teams received prizes, Culler Middle School computer science teacher Lori Morgan said what made the event great was that it was focused on learning, not winning.

“They’re not all working on the same thing, so it’s not about who’s going to do what better. It’s not about competition,” said Culler Middle School teacher Lori Morgan. “It’s just about collaborating and learning.”

For Lackey, the most exciting part was watching students work and learn together, especially with those they didn’t know prior to the event. 

“As a teacher, it gives me goosebumps to hear that communication and collaboration happen naturally without guidance,” Lackey said. “It’s fun to just create and learn together.”

CSE Hack Day will be held again next fall. The website will be updated when a 2020 date is determined. 

Thank you to our volunteers, sponsors, and all who participated!