St. Olaf College | News

In second annual hackathon, students develop tech solutions for real-world needs

In a classroom in Regents Hall of Natural and Mathematical Sciences, there’s a quiet excitement in the air as students type and click, type and click, occasionally stopping to chat with their neighbor as they watch the Zoom meeting they’re all attending via the board in the front. The keynote speaker on Zoom, St. Olaf College alumna Brynna Freitag ’18, describes her work as a product design engineer at Apple, where she was on the team that designed the new Vision Pro — a first-generation device in an entirely new product category.

Her insight is especially relevant for the students in the room, who are in the middle of designing and coding their own apps as part of St. Olaf’s second annual OleHacks hackathon. The event draws a number of teams who work together to create a technical solution to a real-world problem over the span of just a few days.

“In our second annual hackathon, we were thrilled to build on the previous year’s momentum, broadening our invitation to include St. Olaf students, students from other institutions, and participants without a technical background. This approach aligns with our goal to transform the dynamics of the STEM community, fostering a more inclusive environment,” says Maroova Elkemary ’26, the OleHacks lead organizer this year.

OleHacks organizer Maroova Elkemary '26 speaks to participants at this year's event.
OleHacks organizer Maroova Elkemary ’26 speaks to participants at this year’s event.

Coleen Connaughton ’24 and Carter Schafer ’24 led an OleHacks team affectionately called “The Globies” because they met while participating in the college’s Global Semester in fall 2022. The idea for their app, called “Pace,” came after they noticed that students were getting sucked into short-form content apps like TikTok and Instagram. They wanted to come up with a solution to eliminate or minimize time spent on mindless “doom scrolling” and convert it to productive “micro learning” time. Their solution was an app logo featuring a similar color scheme to Instagram, with the additional option to change to the TikTok color scheme, so that clicking on the app would already be ingrained in users. Once clicked on, the app would open up to short articles about a wide variety of topics, from astronomy to geography to technology, in which users learn new facts.

“Students work on building a technical project that can better the world by using technology positively,” says OleHacks organizer Jiwon Moon ’24.

It’s one of several innovative ideas developed at the second OleHacks, which took place in February. The event was hosted by the Piper Center for Vocation and Career, Office of Student Activities, and Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science Department. The hackathon aimed to encourage students to collaborate and compete to create innovative technical projects or solutions within a limited time frame. The event was mainly organized and run by women. 

“Despite our busy schedules, it was a success. We were pleasantly surprised by the turnout,” says organizer Paloma Guth Kronbauer ’26. “It was encouraging to see not only upperclassmen but also sophomores and first-years participating, indicating a considerable interest in such events in our school community.”

This year the hackathon worked to be inclusive of participants from more academic backgrounds. “One thing that’s different is that last year most, if not all, attendees were computer science majors and had a technical background, but this year we invited students with non-technical backgrounds (such as management studies concentrators) and encouraged them to work with students with technical backgrounds to simulate real-life situations where technical and non-technical people work together to build a software,” Moon says.

The winners of this year’s OleHacks were SchedOle, Food Snap, and Student Oriented Community (S.O.C.).

SchedOle is an app for students to be able to design and set their own work schedules. They noticed that different employers used different platforms for scheduling and wanted to consolidate so that everything was on one app.

“This year we invited students with non-technical backgrounds (such as management studies concentrators) and encouraged them to work with students with technical backgrounds to simulate real-life situations where technical and non-technical people work together to build a software.”

Jiwon Moon ’24

Another winner, the team named Student Oriented Community (S.O.C.), worked on developing an online forum for students who need help in classes. The goal was to create a safe space to ask questions or digitally communicate with classmates separate from in-class conversations or with the professor. 

The Oles2.Go team worked on an app for students to request OlesGo online. The team consisted of four people, three computer science majors and one business management studies concentrator, who wanted to develop a solution for the convoluted and time-consuming process for scheduling OlesGo drivers. To get a ride, students had to call each day and request a ride. From there the driver would drive just that person to their location and then drive back and do it all over again. The whole process is manual, so mistakes can be made and students can miss their appointments or get picked up at the wrong time or place. The platform that the hackathon participants created digitized this process, allowing for advanced booking and recurring rides to be booked once. This also allows for drivers to plan to pick up multiple students going to the same place or locations within a close proximity to each other, economizing the process.

Another participating group, FoodSnap, focused on creating an app where users can take pictures of any food and pull up nutrition information on it. 

The Piper Center for Vocation and Career helped organize and host the event. “The Piper Center celebrates the opportunity to support the second year of OleHacks as we seek to provide St. Olaf students experiential ways to use their liberal arts education to create, develop, and implement innovative ideas. OleHacks compliments the AlgoExpert coding certification that is offered through the Ole Career Launcher skill-building program in the Piper Center,” says Piper Center Associate Director Meghan McMillan.

Guth Kronbauer says she’s excited for the possibilities next year’s hackathon brings. “We want to build on the strengths of this year’s event,” she says. “Our goal is to increase diversified participation across different college sectors, fostering collaboration and innovation among students from various disciplines.”