PygHack tackles technological problems in CU
September 23, 2019
Donte Winslow, a design strategist at the Siebel Center for Design, or SCD, works to create experiences that foster human-centered design. His latest project, PygHack, will bring people from all over Champaign-Urbana to design solutions to community problems.
PygHack is Pygmalion’s annual community-wide hackathon. This is the third year of the hack event, and it will be hosted from Sept. 27-28 at the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts.
“A hackathon is sort of like a creative problem-solving boot camp,” Winslow said.
Participants can register online up to when the event begins, and they can either come as a team or come by themselves. When people start arriving and checking in, they have time to mingle and get a feel for the space. They can also speak with facilitators, moderators and community member professionals.
Hacking will be from around 6:30 p.m.-11 p.m., and participants will return as early as 7 a.m. the next morning to start again. Judges will begin to evaluate projects around 5 p.m. When they have made their decision, the top three projects will be announced and receive cash prizes.
However, even if participants do not formally win, sponsors will be attending and can offer their own prizes based on their separate criteria.
By moving the event to KCPA from Research Park, Winslow said PygHack would be more centralized in the community. As a result, it also matched its theme to a performance happening at KCPA during the same weekend.
Geoff Sobelle will be performing HOME, in which he demonstrates the relationship between people’s physical houses and their homes built on relationships. In part based on this, PygHack’s theme this year will be HOME @ PygHack.
This means the hackers will work together to solve problems related to the home.
“It’s a really exciting way to theme the hackathon in a way that’s not really disruptive from what they’ve had in the past,” Winslow said. “It’s always been about coming together to work on projects to make Champaign better.”
Jordan Patterson, another design strategist for the SCD involved with PygHack, said this theme of HOME has many different specifications. He said it includes issues surrounding homelessness, architecture and aging in place, civic relations, city officials and new student populations.
In order to address all of these issues, the hackathon hopes to attract a wide range of participants.
“We’re asking a multidisciplinary group of people to come and participate in this year’s hack,” Patterson said. “From students to professionals to community members, trying to get students of all ages to come and hack together some solutions to some different topics regarding HOME in Champaign-Urbana.”
While Patterson said he expects the event mostly to attract those in coding and developing, he hopes they will get a group with a broader range of skills. He said this is the first year they have changed the theme and approach to make it more interdisciplinary.
Patrick Singer serves as the co-director of Pygmalion and director of the tech-think portion of Pygmalion since its inception five years ago. He had similar hopes for those attending.
“Whether you’re a coder or a developer or simply have great ideas, it’s an all-ages event, but it’s also [for] all skill levels,” he said. “We’re really looking to provide not only an opportunity for teams to build some things, but also for it to be an educational opportunity.”
Singer said he hopes to engage the community more with the University and accomplish the “town–gown marriage.”
“It just brings everyone to sit at the same table and be like, ‘look, we all live here, we all want to make this place better,’” Singer said.
Laura Bleill, director of communication and external engagement for Research Park shares similar hopes for bringing the community together.
She said this event has evolved over the years, taking some of the lessons learned at Research Park.
“People who build teams that have a wide variety of perspectives and backgrounds come up with better outcomes,” she said. “It’s not just for a certain type of person or a certain type of skill set.”
Another element of the event is the structure which allows people to focus on just one specific problem for 24 hours, Bleill said. A hackathon gets a set of people working together around a common problem with a strong time constraint.
“I think this event is for people who are willing to put themselves out there and maybe experience something they haven’t done before, so it’s a great opportunity,” Bleill said.