Bugg '22 Reflects On Organizing SPARK! Hackathon

St. Anne’s-Belfield School hosted its fifth annual SPARK! Hackathon for regional high school students on Feb. 1 & 2, 2020. With the support of sponsors Roomkey, Willowtree, ExploreLearning, U.Va. Biomedical Engineering (BME), Mission Secure, Moonlighting, Tech Dynamism, Ting, and Vault Virginia, the event offered 77 high school students from 15 area schools a unique opportunity to connect with industry experts and fellow teens passionate about changing the world through technology. This year a team of student organizers played a large role in planning and executing the Hackathon. Here, Brehanu Bugg ’22 reflects on this experience.

Sometimes you don’t realize how much work goes into an event until you’re one of the people planning it. After participating in the SPARK! Hackathon as a freshman, I volunteered as a student organizer this year and was assigned the role of communications wrangler. I created an updated version of the website for the event, to add functionality and reflect the progressive brand. I spent evenings and weekends coding the website platform from the ground up, eliminating the need for an expensive website builder, and giving St. Anne’s-Belfield School full control over the content. My role expanded to platform engineer/brand manager, which was a valuable learning experience for me. 

Throughout the fall and winter, everyone on the Hackathon organizing team met often to see where we were and what needed to get done. While the website took a little longer than anticipated to develop, our Winter Break gave me extra time to devote to the project. When school started up in January, the Hackathon was less than a month away!

The next few weeks proved to be very stressful as we needed to contact local businesses for problem statements, recruit willing participants, and make sure everything came together cohesively. Once the long-awaited weekend approached, student organizers and mentors went back and forth helping each other with our responsibilities and making sure we stayed on task. 

A major development introduced for the 2020 Hackathon was “Ping A Mentor,” a feature I coded into the new website. When a team had a question, they went to the website, selected their team name from a dropdown menu, typed in their question, and clicked submit. Their team name and question would ping all the mentor’s phones and the one best suited to help that group would assist. With this innovation, groups received targeted help in real time. This feature eliminated the “Let me come back in a few minutes with someone who knows how to help” scenario. 

Once the 21 hours of the Hackathon ended, we reflected back on our hard work. This year’s Hackathon flowed smoothly because we had a great team with a wide variety of talents, great participants who were excited to be there, and better ways to connect mentors and participants.

Serving as a SPARK! Hackathon’s communications wrangler required a lot of work and was at times stressful, but was a valuable learning experience in managing my time effectively, checking email frequently for changes, and the power of collaboration to create something larger than any one of us could contribute alone.

Photos from this year’s SPARK! Hackathon are now available on the School’s SmugMug account.