Tech powerhouses hold hackathon for students

September 27, 2012 7:03:23 PM PDT
Facebook and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation are teaming up to help kids get into college and stay there. The two tech powerhouses hosted a competition at Facebook's Menlo Park campus Thursday, looking for ways social media can have an impact in getting kids to college.

The 150 web developers worked on ways to help kids navigate the college admissions process.

"This is about getting the best and the brightest developers on the planet in a room hacking and focusing on a specific problem," said Dave Steer, manager of Policy Communications at Facebook

In this case, "hacking" is a positive term - meaning intense focus producing great ideas very fast.

"The end goal is to get kids on a pathway to college and stay in college with an emphasis on low-income kids and the great thing is we know those kids are using social media," Steer said.

Facebook and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation teamed up for this project -- with the foundation providing $18,000 in prizes for the best prototypes, and $2.5 million in grants for more down the road.

The San Francisco-based "grade-schools" nonprofit has a team of four in the race, "It is a short day, just six hours," Hackathon competitor Karissa Sparks said. "We'll be hacking away. We're going to have a barely functional prototype but something clickable and we can pitch it by the end of the day."

Gates Foundation grantmaker Emily Dalton Smith is one of the judges, who will listen to each team's 3-minute pitch, "So we'll be looking first that these apps solve real problems that kids have. Not just providing more information but give them great tools, especially if they don't have adults or community support."

Jessica Inson is a high school senior from San Francisco. She's had lots of help making her college applications. On Thursday she helped the developers understand what her peers, without that support, might need. She says this includes knowing they have to plan ahead, "Like, senior year hits and they're like, wow, it's the last leg of the race and I really need to apply and I need to do that and they get lost in all this the information and they're like, do I really want to go?"

Apps to help remind students that they do need to plan ahead should be available late next year.


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