The Rocky Hill School recently made history, hosting the first-ever statewide “social good hackathon” for students across the Rhode Island to create their own unique ideas on energy policy.
Director of Innovation Meg Stowe said Monday that the hackathon was conceived by two juniors, Kingston’s Cortlandt Meyerson and East Greenwich’s Ben Pogacar. Stowe said it was also their idea to invite students from outside Rocky Hill to participate, and she said the Oct. 26-27 event was a success.
Bishop Hendricken, the Met East Bay School, The Met (Providence), Wheeler School, Holy Trinity (Canada), Narragansett High School and East Greenwich High School all sent participants to the event. The central theme was “Hack the Power: Reduce, Reuse, Renew.” Stowe said that hackathons were originally borne out of coding and programming, Meyerson and Pogacar re-purposed the idea to encourage others to pitch projects that address renewable energy.
“The kids wanted to a do a hackathon around a theme that will impact a lot of people,” Stowe said. “Ultimately and very quickly they arrived at a global grand challenge…It was incredible.”
She said there were four goals for the hackathon: meet new people, engage with mentors and experts, have fun and work on real-world and meaningful programs. She said that some students were surveyed on their experiences, and 100 percent said the goals were met and that they would do it again.
The event began on Friday, Oct. 26, with a conversation with state officials. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, Rep. Jim Langevin and Assistant Secretary for the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications for the Department of Homeland Security Jeanette Manfra spoke with students about energy policies and “securing our power grid from cyberattacks,” according to a Rocky Hill release.
Lt. Gov. Dan McKee and Rhode Island Chief Cybersecurity Officer Mike Steinmetz also chatted with the students before they crafted their presentations for Saturday. Students could choose whether they wanted to tackle an idea surrounding reduce, renew or reuse. An eight-expert panel heard each group’s five-minute pitch on Saturday, and later prizes were presented in three categories.
The Moonshot Idea winners presented the concept of tree lights, which “proposed recoding the DNA of tree seeds with florescent protein so that they would produce natural light.” They received a one-on-one with Sen. Whitehouse to dive further into their idea, as well as an internship at Power Docks and E2Sol.
Rocky Hill’s Xuan Guo, Lingnan Zheng, Changhe Wu, Alvin Zhang, Heyuan Ma and Jiaze Lyu were the members of the winning group.
The next category was the idea that had the potential to impact the most people, whose winners received a behind-the-scenes tour of the Rhode Island Resource Recovery Center and $500 cash prize to put towards a nonprofit or group of their choosing. The $500 allotment was given to Meyerson and Pogacar from NBC10 as a Pay It Forward prize.
The winning design was an app that would provide energy usage education and suggest green alternatives. Rocky Hill and Wheeler students made up the group, including Willa Geoghegan, Elsa Block, Neha Basu and Giselle Virga.
The final category, which awarded the best pitch, went to a combined effort from the Holy Trinity School and Rocky Hill. Their topic, “Kelp Can Help!”, focused on the potential for kelp as an “alternative bioplastic.” They illustrated how kelp naturally addresses water pollution and could possibly reduce methane emissions as a “more nutritional source of feed for livestock.”
Justin Assing, Siddhant Karant, Vivian Long, Constantine Pellas, Tracy Zhang, Lucia Caito and Esteban Wu presented the best pitch. They received an internship opportunity at a LearnLaunch startup, a tour of Newport Biodiesel and a college prep session with a Rocky Hill counselor.
“We wanted to redefine through the students’ experience what a hackathon could be,” Stowe said. “We’re trying to value what all learners are bringing to the table.”