Hacking for Good

Hack NH Logo

The snow had started to fall, and students were back and ready for spring semester. This could only mean one thing: It was hackathon time at the UNH InterOperability Lab (UNH-IOL).

The challenge invites UNH students from all colleges and majors to collaborate on a project or problem domain, strategize an innovative solution and present it to judges, with this year’s theme of Hack New Hampshire (Hack NH) asking students to collaborate on solutions that would helpthe state become safer or more sustainable.

One of this year’s goals was to attract students outside of the College of Engineering and Physical Sciences (CEPS) who might shy away from a coding and programming-heavy challenge in order to encourage cross-disciplinary collaboration. With three New Hampshire-based companies sponsoring the event — Liberty Mutual, Bottomline Technologies and Arista — the IOL was ready to start marketing and driving engagement across campus. Through a partnership with the ECenter’s i2 Passport program, the event was attended by more than 35 graduate students and undergraduates not only from CEPS but also from the College of Liberal Arts, Paul College of Business and Economics and the Carsey School of Public Policy, to name a few.

“Hack NH provided me with a great opportunity to meet people in the industry, develop my technical skills and collaborate with people from different majors,” says Matt Lemire ‘20, a computer science major. “Working together to design a safe and sustainable solution to benefit New Hampshire was challenging, but getting behind an idea we were passionate about and then presenting to the judges was both exciting and rewarding.”

A total of 10 teams participated in the challenge. Students arrived on a Saturday and didn’t leave the lab until Sunday afternoon, spending all night working on their projects. Some students came in as teams while other participants were grouped into teams based on their skillsets, majors and year in school. After nearly 24 hours, a few cases of RedBull and plenty of tasty food for fuel, each team had to close their laptops and prep for the final — and possibly most important — stage of the competition: the presentation.

Each team was judged on technical innovation, creativity, uniqueness, usefulness and presentation. This is where the cross-disciplinary strengths of each team came into play; for example, one team had students in computer science, computer engineering, marketing and business, which helped the team divide and conquer both the presentation and the project.

“It was great working with other students that I wouldn’t normally interact with since most of us are in different majors — not even similar fields,” explains Jessica Nelson, ‘21, a business administration major.

Nelson was a member of Eco Salt, which took home first place at Hack NH. The team used a Google and OnWater application programming interface (API) to create a mobile app that would notify plow and salt drivers of low-salt areas. There is an ongoing problem caused by sodium chloride draining off into wells, tainting water and killing off aquatic organisms. The application could potentially decrease salt distribution while ensuring the safety of drivers in slippery areas.