NYUAD Annual Hackathon

Htoo Min
NYU Abu Dhabi Campus.

NYU Abu Dhabi coded its way through its sixth annual International Hackathon for Social Good in the Arab World from April 14-16, which encourages student participants to create social change within their local communities.

According to Clinical Professor of Computer Science and Founder and Chair of the NYUAD Hackathons Sana Odeh, each hackathon has several unique themes. She said that this year’s themes were education, valuable communities with an emphasis on accommodating refugees, healthcare and tools for learning Arabic.

Odeh said that hackathons are paramount to success in the engineering field. Odeh said that the amount of exposure to real products created by engineers will help students explore new ideas within their fields.

“A hackathon is very important because it exposes students to computer science theory and practice as students learn about machine learning, [Artificial Intelligence], software engineering, algorithmic thinking, databases, data science as well as use the latest and the most efficient tools and [Application Program Interfaces],” Odeh said.

She said that at these events, students are encouraged to develop a problem-solving mindset and are taught how to be true entrepreneurs. Odeh said that this hackathon is different in that it aims to directly affect the Arab world.

“They spend an entire weekend together learning from each other as the teams are made up from people from all over the world — very diverse teams [in which] female representation is close to 50 percent,” Odeh said. “This hackathon is very unique because top students come from all over the world to build applications for social good in the Arab world. It’s an international competition that’s held in the Arab world.”

NYUAD senior Elissa Mkanna was a member of the team that placed third at the hackathon. The team created a project called AnNahr, which develops a hardware solution to water wastage at mosques. Mkanna said that she enjoyed meeting and working with a vast array of people on this project.

“You would think that it’s impossible to build something new in less than 48 hours, but the results were surprisingly satisfactory,” Mkanna said. “Different backgrounds, perspectives and skills were put together to create amazing products. In brief, this hackathon is the definition of combining great innovative minds, passion and enthusiasm.”

Mckanna said it was amazing that their team was able to build something in such a short time period. Mkanna feels lucky to have been a part of the hackathon, and appreciates that NYUAD provided her with this opportunity.

Nizar Habash was a judge at this year’s hackathon, and has mentored the teams for the last two years. He said that the first place project was Hiat — Arabic for ‘life’ — a platform for connecting skilled Syrian refugees in Turkey who are looking to work with Turkish citizens offering opportunities.

“All of the winning projects have well-thought-out core ideas that are guided by the interest of improving society,” Habash said. “The presentations were excellent and the prototypes created and their demos were impressive, given that the participants for the most part only met each other at the hackathon and only had 1.5 days to do everything.”

A version of this article appeared in the Monday, April 24 print edition.

Email Htoo Min at [email protected] 

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