Immaculate Heart High School Hosts "Personal Tech Hackathon" for Area Teens

Published : Wednesday, March 7, 2018 | 12:12 PM

Sitting in a row, Immaculate Heart High School students focus on a “design thinking challenge” as they work together to combine two ordinary objects into a new, extraordinary object.

Dozens of creative young minds came together on Saturday, March 3, as Immaculate Heart High School, in conjunction with six other schools, hosted a “Personal Tech Hackathon.”

Beginning at 8:30 a.m., nearly 90 middle school and high school students from 27 Los Angeles schools, along with more than 40 volunteers, arrived at Immaculate Heart’s campus for a full day of brainstorming, problem solving, and computer science.

Experts in many fields of technology led workshops, where students could learn more about various methods of building tech prototypes at all skill levels, including how to build apps with and without coding experience, and even how to create working devices.

Rob Vondrak, chair of Immaculate Heart High School’s science department, explains to students how to properly attach their mini-controller devices to servos in order to enable them to perform an action.

Rob Vondrak, Immaculate Heart High School’s science chair and one of the event’s volunteers, led a workshop on building with Arduino, a customizable micro-controller. Under his supervision, students more comfortable with electronics and programming built devices that responded to a specific input with a programmed action. For example, a student could create a device that turned on an LED when a button was pushed.

These workshops gave students the opportunity to work at their own skill levels to develop technology that could help address the problems that they and their peers regularly face. The teams tackled issues like food waste, youth homelessness, and school safety.

“I was very impressed by the dedication of these students,” IH computer science teacher and event coordinator Max Bigman said. “They worked really hard to find solutions to some very difficult issues.”

From Immaculate Heart Middle School, eighth grader Ryan Younger (left), seventh grader Chloe Pithie (center), and sixth grader Taylor Waimrin work together to design a prototype of their app.

By the end of the day – 4 p.m. for middle schoolers and 8 p.m. for high schoolers – each team had a prototype to show a panel of experts. These prototypes were judged and then awarded prizes for marketability, potential impact, and technical ambition.

“The Hackathon was a really great experience,” said IH senior Erin Matsuno, who plans to enter college as a computer science major. “The way students from all over came together to create something wonderful in this amount of time was amazing and inspiring.”

But the work didn’t stop there for many students!

“One of the middle schoolers in my Girls Who Code Club told me that she and her partners are going to keep working on their app,” IH computer science chair Megan Reeves said. “They’re excited about it, and they think it would be really useful.”

This is the second year Immaculate Heart has partnered with the Archer School for Girls, Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences, Mirman School, New Roads School, the Pegasus School, and Wildwood School to hold a Hackathon, and student interest continues to grow.

“I had students coming up to me after the event, asking when the next one would be,” said Bigman, who had helped plan and organize the event. “For me, that’s really the most rewarding part of the event – to see these kids’ interest in computer science grow.”

Immaculate Heart sophomore Marigrace Carrasco is one of those students.

“At first I wasn’t sure what to expect,” Carrasco said, “but as the day went on, I found that I had a greater appreciation for coding than I thought. I will definitely attend the next Hackathon!”

About Immaculate Heart

Founded in 1906, Immaculate Heart educates young women in grades sixth through 12th from its central location in the Los Feliz foothills near Griffith Park in Hollywood. The school has a long and distinguished history, with more than 10,000 graduates. Today’s student body of more than 700 young women is both geographically and ethnically diverse, drawing on students from throughout Los Angeles County. Last year, virtually 100 percent of Immaculate Heart graduates matriculated to colleges, including the most prestigious schools in the country.







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