Gillings School hosts Pearl Hacks, a tech innovation event for first-time student hackers

March 16, 2019

Participants pose with their web product at the Pearl Hacks demo fair

Participants pose with their web product at the Pearl Hacks demo fair.

Graduate and undergraduate students from more than 10 universities gathered at UNC’s Gillings School of Global Public Health on Feb. 16-17 for the 2019 Pearl Hacks, a weekend-long hackathon for female and nonbinary students. The event, in its fifth year, was an opportunity for more than 250 like-minded students to network, form small teams, and imagine and produce an innovative tech “hack” over the course of 24 hours.

“In 2019, we have more data than we know what to do with,” said Christin Daniels, MA,  senior director of research and innovation in the Gillings School’s Research, Innovation and Global Solutions unit. “We are thrilled to host an event for women and nonbinary individuals – who are underrepresented in programming and computer science fields – to gain skills that help transform data into usable information.”

Students, most of whom were first-time hackers, were offered 20 coding and product development workshops (e.g., Intro to Web Development, Getting Started with APIs, Making an iOS App, Basic Backend in Python) and professional development classes (e.g., Career 101, How to Ace a Coding Interview, How to Demo), most of which were taught by event sponsors, including Google, SAS, Microsoft and Genesys.

Air mattresses and various foods provided refreshment breaks during the intense period of creativity.

Nicole Gonzalez (center) and Alicia Reynolds (right), members of the winning team, pose with Susanna Choi, Gillings School master's student and event judge (left) and the team's final mobile app product. Not pictured is team member Chelsie Kolberg.

Nicole Gonzalez (center) and Alicia Reynolds (right), members of a winning team, ‘6 Degrees to Success,’ pose with Susanna Choi, Gillings School master’s student and event judge (left) and the team’s final mobile app product. Not pictured is team member Chelsie Kolberg.

Participants competed for more than 20 prizes, one of which was the Gillings School “One Health” prize.

“’One Health’ describes a transdisciplinary and cross-sector approach we often use to address big public health problems, such as combating antimicrobial resistance, improving access to healthy food and clean water, or predicting emerging pandemics,” Daniels said.

The One Health prize was awarded to Nicole Gonzalez, Alicia Reynolds and Chelsie Kolberg, a team of Master of Public Health students at the Gillings School who developed a gamified mentorship and advocacy mobile app for female high school students, called 6 Degrees to Success.

“It was wonderful to witness and feed off of the energy of so many first-time hackers inspired to create innovative tech products to address public health concerns,” said Susanna Choi, Master of Public Health student in nutrition at the Gillings School and mentor and judge for the One Health prize. “The 6 Degrees to Success mobile app best met our top criteria of societal need, novelty and implementability, with a focus on the One Health strategic theme.”

Pearl Hacks 2019 had a turnout of more than 250 graduate and undergraduate students from more than 10 U.S. universities.

Pearl Hacks 2019 had a turnout of more than 250 graduate and undergraduate students from more than 10 U.S. universities.

Among the sponsors of the event were the UNC Gillings School, UNC Department of Computer Science, Capital One, CapTech, RedHat, Red Ventures, BNY Mellon, Fidelity Investments, Genesys, JP Morgan Chase & Co., Microsoft, ncino, pwcSentryOne, Splunk, Bandwidth, Barings, Credit Suisse, Deutsche Bank, Google, Kaleido, MetLife, OptumSAS, Willowtree, RENCI, Rewriting the Code and StickerMule.

Congratulations to the 2019 Pearl Hacks winners, listed by sponsoring organization, prize name and winning team:

  • Gillings School, One Health, 6 Degrees to Success App
  • Credit Suisse, Best use of automation, URSecure
  • Google, Best use of Google API, car-bonfootprint
  • Met Life, Most impactful hack, Ctrl-B
  • Optum, Best health hack, HealthHelp
  • Rewriting the Code, Best women empowerment hack, Tinklr
  • CS+ Social Good, Most enivironmentally aware hack, car-bonfootprint
  • Bandwidth, Future of instant messaging, 2nd place, Pearlbot
Students listen intently during a coding workshop that was held at the hackathon.

Students listen intently during a coding workshop that was held at the hackathon.

  • Bandwidth, Future of instant messaging, 1st place, Find your Flex
  • BNY Mellon, Best user-driven design, Campus Watch
  • Fidelity, Best beginner hack, Mentor Finder
  • Genesys, Best use of AI/machine learning, RecipeGenie
  • JP Morgan, Best hack for social good, FundRaiserHer
  • Microsoft, Best use of Azure Devops, PearlHacks2019
  • nCino, Why so serious hack?, Wake Meme Up
  • Splunk, Best use of Splunk, EmpoWOMENt
  • Capital One, Best financial hack, Teracare
  • Red Ventures, Most innovative hack, Face Off Buzz On
  • MLH, Best domain registered with domain.com, EmpoWOMENt
  • MLH, Best use of Google cloud platform, EmpoWOMENt
  • Pearl Hacks, 3rd place, LearnToType
  • Pearl Hacks, 2nd place, Remember
  • Pearl Hacks, 1st place, Ladies in Tech

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Contact the Gillings School of Global Public Health communications team at sphcomm@listserv.unc.edu.

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