From Inception to Innovation, Hack Arizona Is All About Ideas

The organizers of the second Hack Arizona, to be held at the UA, affirm that programming experience isn't required to be an innovator.

By La Monica Everett-Haynes, University Relations - Communications January 15, 2016


To encourage original thought and inventiveness, and after a successful inaugural year, Hack Arizona — the largest student-run hackathon in the Southwest — will return with more participants, more sponsors and more volunteers.

The free event, open to undergraduate and graduate students in all academic programs from across the country, provides a competitive space at the University of Arizona for teams to develop and build websites, cloud software, robotics, Web and iOS apps, and other creations. Students can apply online.

"Innovations in hacking are what power the technology we use everyday," said Hack Arizona marketing director Nick Morin, a UA School of Information senior majoring in eSociety.

At least 800 participants are expected to attend this year's event, which is offered through a partnership between InnovateUA and the UA Libraries, as well as dozens of national and international corporate sponsors.

Members of the general public are invited to attend the Project Exposition, to be held on Jan. 24, from 9 a.m. to 12:15 p.m, in the Grand Ballroom of the Student Union Memorial Center. During that time, projects will be on display and award winners will be named on Jan. 25 on the Hack Arizonawebsite.

Hack Arizona does not reference or endorse malicious or illegal cyber crime. Rather, "hacking" refers to the work of inventors, builders and creators who spend 36 hours in solution-oriented mode coming up with an answer to a problem or challenge.

"Hacking simply means improving upon something, so by encouraging innovations in hacking, you are really encouraging people to solve problems," said Morin, who is also InnovateUA's senior director.

This year, Hack Arizona participants will build design innovations around sustainability, health, community, data science and open source resources.

Participants also learn about new software and technologies, attend instructional and active workshops, collaborate across disciplines and receive free meals and entertainment.

"Immediately after the first Hack Arizona, our team went back to the white board asking how we could make the next event even better," Morin said. "Our main focus this year centers around the hacker experience, the core value we bring to all of our participants, from the minute they arrive at opening ceremony to the event conclusion on Sunday."

UA alumni who now work with companies such as Google also will be on site during the hackathon to mentor and support teams. Other event sponsors, which also will be offering demonstrations of their technologies and products, include Raytheon, Cisco, Intuit and Amazon.

"At Hack Arizona, the most talented students from across campus and across the globe are converging at the University of Arizona," said Justin Williams, executive director of InnovateUA, an organization that supports and fosters a student-led culture of innovation and entrepreneurship.

"The talented student leaders behind Hack Arizona and all InnovateUA programs are an essential reason why the UA is recognized as a world leader in innovation," said Williams, also a lecturer in the UA Eller College of Management and College of Engineering.

Last year's 450 Hack Arizona participants produced nearly 70 projects, including a text-based system to help language learners practice and a robot that taught itself to take steps while using only minor instruction from a basic mathematical algorithm.

"Hack Arizona is not only a hackathon but a learning experience, a resume booster, a way to get involved, a way to meet company sponsors, a way to get a job or an internship, a way to work on team-building skills," Hack Arizona organizer Brittany Paielli, a UA student studying mathematics and computer science, said in a statement. "It can bring you one step closer to being more successful in the future."

Hack Arizona's team contributed to this article.