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Return To Form (In Various Forms) At CEWIT Hackathon

Hackathon Team Photo

Putting the IT in "team": Students from across the region and the country showed their coding (and socialization) skills March 3-5 at the Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology. (Photo courtesy of Stony Brook University)

The Center of Excellence in Wireless and Information Technology would like to kindly dispel the myth that hackers, programmers and other computer experts are antisocial.

In fact, in uniting nearly 150 collegians from New York, three other states and one other country for a 44-hour eat-sleep-code marathon, CEWIT proved two things: Hackers are perfectly sociable people, and the annual Hack@CEWIT hackathon rocks best when it truly is at CEWIT.

Hailing largely from this region – but also from Buffalo, New Jersey, Florida, Arizona and even Canada – higher-education students gathered March 3-5 at the Stony Brook center for the seventh-annual hackathon, which was co-hosted by longtime CEWIT partner Major League Hacking and tasked competitors with “Hacking a Sustainable Future,” with $4,500 in prizes at stake.

More than 300 students were registered for the popular annual event, which grew steadily in prestige and attendance before COVID – and even snuck one in under the pandemic wire in early 2020, before switching to virtual formats in 2021 and again last March.

Returning the seventh-annual competition to its roots – eating, camping and working inside CEWIT, in-person workshops with industry experts, an on-site Hardware Lab, a Friday night “midnight howl,” yoga mats and other “swag” – was extremely gratifying, according to CEWIT Director Rong Zhao.

“We are thrilled to see the incredible turnout of college students at this year’s Hack@CEWIT event,” said Zhao, a faculty member of SBU’s Department of Computer Science with multiple university adjunct positions.

The three-day competition – which included opening remarks by Eugene Sayan, founder and CEO of Stony Brook-based healthcare-operations solutions provider (and major hackathon sponsor) Softheon – produced 23 total projects focused on energy, IoT, healthcare, cybersecurity and national defense, all with an eye on environmental sustainability.

High-profile program sponsors included the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers, the New York Power Authority, IBM and Zebra Technologies, among other corporate and academic partners.

“We were particularly excited to partner with NASA to provide students with access to climate and environmental data,” Zhao told Innovate Long Island. “And with Softheon to explore the convergence of healthcare, cloud computing and [artificial intelligence].”

Adding to the event’s social relevancy, 120-plus guests attended a March 5 Project Showcase at CEWIT to see the fruits of the marathon coding labors, with industry judges selecting categorical winners based on a slate of technical and practical criteria.

Mount Sinai High School computer science teacher Eric Ruhoy, who brought several of his pre-collegiate learners to the Sunday science fair, said the “remarkable” event “[left] an impression on both me and my students.”

“Witnessing the creativity and innovation from the participating programmers, all striving towards a sustainable future, was an absolute delight,” Ruhoy added. “The experience inspired and motivated my students to continue pursuing their interests in computer science and to participate in hackathons themselves.”

Graduate-Level Best in Show honors went to the SBU-based team of Raisa Mallik and Abishek Vanam, who came up with Real Time Smart, an ambitious app designed to streamline daily automotive commutes (saving energy and reducing carbon emissions along the way).

Undergraduate Best in Show honors went to Sije Park, Seungjun Chae, Abhishek Gaire and Labesh Baral, SBU students who coded Smart Fridge, a web app built to track food and ingredient expiration dates (cutting into approximately 119 billion pounds of U.S. food wasted annually).

Sixteen prizes were awarded in all, saluting the best “Immersive Experience,” a “HealthTech Hero,” a “Spark of Genius” (extra points for innovation) and the “Best NoobHack” (the most impressive project by first-time hackers), among other unique categories.

The prizes, including further development services from participating sponsors, are wonderful, according to Zhao, but watching dozens of collegians in action, in person, “working alongside our industry partners on real-world problems” was the hackathon’s real reward.

“It was truly inspiring to witness the passion and dedication of these young innovators,” the CEWIT director added. “They applied cutting-edge technologies to address critical challenges faced by our society and help pave the way to a better future.”