Nov. 4-5 event exemplifies problem-solving spirit

UMass Lowell students and Entrepreneurial Initiatives Project Director Holly Butler, right, prepare to hack at last year's Hackathon AE in Binghamton, N.Y.

By David Perry

For 24 hours, UMass Lowell will host teams of seekers and solvers from across the Northeast when the America East Hack AE hackathon settles into the first floor of O’Leary Library Nov. 4 through 5.

The conference comes to UML thanks to the America East Academic Consortium (AEAC), the nonathletic part of the America East Conference formed in 2014 to leverage the conference’s distinct academic strengths.

“Our primary goal is to provide high-impact learning experiences for students,” said Juliette Kenny, executive director of the AEAC, at a recent DifferenceMaker event at UML. “Last year, we had a very successful first hackathon at SUNY Binghamton. UMass Lowell sent a team, and it was obvious very quickly that the university was a very natural and obvious choice to host.” The SUNY event drew more than 150 students from seven America East universities.

The hackathon is designed to gather America East students to solve real-world challenges by developing software and hardware projects that address them. The event is sponsored by Major League Hacking, the official league of student hacking, and will include the nine member universities seeking technological solutions to cybersecurity, education, environmental sustainability, and health and wellness. There are no quick answers, and students work around the clock to find them.

“It’s like a sleepover without the sleep,” said Kenny. “And lots of work.”

“It’s a great opportunity to be in an environment where people are learning technical things quickly,” said Andrew MacGregor, a senior computer engineering major who made the trek to Binghamton last year with other UML students. They designed a mobile app that matched lonely senior citizens with volunteers to keep them company. “It’s a lot of fun, too, but the kind of fun that you get a lot out of. We had no idea of what we were doing going in there, and we came out with something.” He’s back for this year’s event, too.

“We are so thrilled to host the hackathon because it exemplifies exactly the kind of thread we’re working to weave through all of our programs at UMass Lowell,” said Steven Tello, the university’s senior associate vice chancellor for entrepreneurship and economic development. “It’s about solving real-world problems with solutions found by cutting across boundaries of disciplines. Innovation and entrepreneurship are pillars here. Events like this invite students to use them for the better.”

Also on site will be a career fair bringing in area sponsors and companies to offer student hackers a chance to connect to future potential employers. Among those confirmed who will also be talking to students during the first day are BAE Systems, the Massachusetts Clean Energy Center, Circle Health and UMass Lowell College of Health Sciences


“We are challenging students to think critically and creatively, and UMass Lowell, in the breadth of its programs – and especially the DifferenceMaker initiative – is doing that,” said Kenny. “I’ve heard it said that UMass Lowell is a campus on the move, and it really is. There’s an energy that’s palpable here.”

Students do not need to form teams before the event, though teamwork is encouraged. Registration is free, and the deadline is Oct. 31 at 5 p.m. Please visit The America East Hackathon 2017 website for registration and information.