This editorial article is a part of Universities Month 2023 in Technical.ly’s editorial calendar.
At Sunday’s close of the 2023 Philly Codefest, held at Quorum within the University City Science Center, a group of judges made their way around the room, listening intently to each group as they presented on the project they’d developed over two days.
The judges then moved to a separate room to determine a winner, which took longer than expected, given how impressive all the projects were this year, said Dave Raiken, assistant director of operations, events and logistics at event host Drexel University’s College of Computing and Informatics (CCI).
Codefest just celebrated its 10th year, once again welcoming students and professionals of all skill levels to the weekend-long hackathon. This year’s Comcast-sponsored event saw 46 teams create technical projects aligning with the theme “AI Everywhere” — that is, “real-world, scalable software and hardware solutions to improve and expand artificial intelligence’s positive societal impacts.” Participants started coding on Saturday morning and had until 6 p.m. that day to submit their idea. Then, they had until noon on Sunday to complete their project before judging.
Sahil Khanna, a computer science student at Drexel, said Codefest is an opportunity to “showcase your skills” outside of classes. Khanna contributed a project to Codefest last year, but this year he’d joined the operations team to help coordinate the event (and still joined a team to work on a project again).
“If you’ve got an idea, an open goal, and you can use your creativity to make whatever you want to make,” he told Technical.ly, “there’s no rules. The only rule is you cite your sources. So you have the power of the internet at your disposal to do anything you want.”
Anca Scarlat is another computer science student at Drexel who works with the operations team as one of the student coordinators for the event. While she had never personally participated in a Codefest project, she sees how hackathons like this one provide a unique learning experience.
“To work for 48 hours on a project that you’re passionate about, it just pushes you to your limits and it accelerates the learning process,” she said. “I think here, you have the chance to exchange ideas with your peers, learn from other teams that are participating, and just share this common experience with a lot of students that otherwise you wouldn’t have.”
Meet 3 Codefest teams
Maryann Okolo and Lida Susan Sabu are both Drexel students who created an email organization tool called EasyMail, which uses AI to scan email messages and organize them.
“What our app basically does is when it gets a bulk email or it gets an email text, it summarizes it, it classifies it and it categorizes it,” Okolo said. The user is also able to personalize email categories by adding criteria; for example, a student can categorize all their emails from professors to be grouped together.
This weekend helped her see the real-life applications of what she is learning in class. Sabu said she gained more confidence in creating something in a short amount of time, and was able to meet new people and make connections in her field.
To work for 48 hours on a project that you’re passionate about, it just pushes you to your limits and it accelerates the learning process.Anca Scarlat Drexel CCI student
Alex Zavalny participated on a team called Donator Pro, which designed a machine learning algorithm to predict how many people will be visiting food and clothing donation centers on a certain day and which centers have the capacity to take new donations, based on historical data. That predication, combined with the amount of items being donated and how much stock each donation center has, will produce an “impact score” telling the user how much impact their donation will have.
The tool will “essentially help people donating clothes and food donate it more efficiently,” the Drexel student said. “People who need the clothes and food, they’re able to get the clothes and food that they need, as well as the centers themselves [can] make sure that they’re able to manage their stock.”
The idea came from that fact that a lot of college events — including hackathons — give out free t-shirts and other merchandise, which may end up discarded in the future. He said his team surveyed students about how they currently donate, and if not knowing where to donate is a factor in not doing it. He said a significant percentage of people reported that’s the case, so his team wanted to create a solution to that problem.
Overall, Zavalny said he’s hoping to take away skills such as “rapid prototyping and iteratively designing and developing and changing your idea” from the hackathon.
And Trinity Kleckner and Ahmed Haj Ahmed are students from the suburban Haverford College who traveled into Philly to attend Codefest.
“I came to Codefest for the first time last year,” Kleckner said. “Haverford is very small liberal arts school, so we don’t have early access to big events like this. We’re just always trying to take advantage of what’s near us.”
Kleckner and Ahmed are part of the team behind the project Lighthouse, an app designed to help refugees and immigrants find resources. Ahmed said this project was inspired by his own experience as a refugee from Syria.
Meet the winners
There were 10 winning teams at the end of the weekend who won a variety of prizes:
- Donator Pro won Philly Codefest 2023 Student Team.
- Meddibia, a tool that uses AI to help people in rural communities with healthcare, won Philly Codefest 2023 Collaborative Team.
- TALK2ME is an app that uses AI to help language learners practice their skills. This group won Philly Codefest 2023 Best Hack for Social Good.
- ColourfulCounseling 2, a website that uses art to help users process their emotions, won the Philly Codefest 2023 Freshmen Challenge.
- Easy Mail won Philly Codefest 2023 Most Innovative Hack and Comcast’s Use AI to Make My Meeting More Efficient Challenge.
- Lighthouse won Philly Codefest 2023 Best Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) Hack.
- Mock&Roll, an app that prepares mock job interviews, won Philly Codefest 2023 Most Creative Hack and FinCons Group Finding Trusted Sources Challenge.
- Apple Juice is a website that uses ChatGPT and DALL-E to troubleshoot any prompt or issue you put into it. This team won the Comcast Applied AI Challenge.
- Retained is a tool to predict if customers will stay on your platform. They won the Comcast Build and AI-ML Model for Customer Journey Optimization Challenge.
- AR Troubleshooter, an AR application to troubleshoot internet issues, won the Comcast AR Challenge.
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