Wesleyan Will Host Youth “Hackathon” for Social Good, Feb. 24

Wesleyan, in collaboration with Random Hacks of Kindness Jr., is hosting a “hackathon” for social good for students in grades 4 through 8, from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 24. This free event, to be held in Beckham Hall, will show local youth how technology can be used to create solutions that benefit nonprofit organizations. The hackathon is open to the public and requires no prior coding experience.

“Participants will be working with Wesleyan student mentors to create technology for social good,” explained Patrice Gans, president and executive director of Random Hacks of Kindness Jr. “By the end of the day we hope they will see how technology can have a positive impact on someone’s life.”

Throughout the daylong hackathon, Wesleyan students will serve as volunteer mentors, working with youth to devise computer applications to address a range of problems facing local organizations. Nonprofit social good organizations founded by Wesleyan students through the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship will be the beneficiaries of these apps. Using MIT App Inventor, students will learn the basics of app design, as well as the ideation and brainstorming process required to build a successful prototype mobile application.

“We are excited to host this great event, and to help introduce young people to the application of technology for a social good. They will be exposed to the process of working with a customer to develop a product,” said Karen Warren, deputy chief information officer at Wesleyan. “Our students are thrilled to be able to share knowledge and commitment to positive social change with Middletown kids.”

Random Hacks of Kindness Jr. Inc. was developed by Gans as an opportunity to empower and inspire youth to use technology for social good. Gans, a technology educator, organized the first Random Hacks of Kindness Jr. event at the Fraser Woods Montessori School in Newtown in May 2013. Since then close to 1,000 students from across Connecticut have come together to create apps for nonprofits in their communities.

“Our events are geared to providing students with opportunities in computer programming in schools, after-school programs and other settings,” Gans said. “Coding is more than a computer game,” she added. “Technology really has a purpose.” Mentors and representatives from the nonprofit organizations will also have the opportunity to educate the participating students about the work of their organizations. The goal of the event for the participating nonprofit groups, Gans stressed, is not fundraising or “free labor,” but technological innovation for the organizations.

Participants are required to pre-register at www.rhokjr.org. For additional information, please contact Patrice Gans at reesegans@gmail.com. The event is co-sponsored by IT Services, the Jewett Center for Community Partnerships and the Patricelli Center for Social Entrepreneurship at Wesleyan University.