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‘MedHacks’ at Bob Jones examines local, real-world health issue

MADISON – Julia Nguyen spearheaded a student-led, four-day event, “MedHacks,” for 60 participants to study a local problem about health care.

MedHacks is a ‘hackathon’ in which teams collaborate and pitch ideas to offer solutions to a given problem. These teams present their creations to a panel of judges. Winners receive prizes.

MedHacks studied the problem, “How to deliver medical care to underprivileged people who do not live near hospitals.”

In early 2021, Nguyen attended multiple hackathons. “I’ll never forget how impactful each and every one of them was. My very first one was MERGE 2021. Because of COVID, this was a virtual hackathon, which has its ups and downs,” she said.

Albeit virtual, hackathons introduced Nguyen to people around the world – even Indonesia. “From this hackathon, I learned so much from workshops and the people. I wanted to give students around the area a chance to also experience what a hackathon is,” she said. She wanted to expedite lessons in coding and the medical world . . . “even inspire them to find their passion.”

Planning for Bob Jones MedHacks required about four months. New to the job, her work was difficult but also had a fun factor.

By summer, Nguyen formed a board of eight members. Along with Nguyen, the board included Thomas Nguyen and Xueer Chen, finance managers; Alecia Walker and Staci Smith, marketing managers; and Ashlyn Davenport, Samanvi Vookuturi and Maanasi Limaye, logistics managers.

They completed an email blitz to find sponsors, workshop instructors and mentors. Nguyen conducted Zoom meetings and even drove to meet in person. The process took three months.

Students also created an Eventbrite website for registration, designed T-shirts and secured pizzas from Little Caesars.

Day one of MedHacks involved three 90-minute workshops; day two saw two hour-long workshops. Teams wrote most projects in Python. Some used Streamlit to activate their website.

On the Hackathon day, participants were sorted into four-member groups and worked together to formulate a solution to the medical scenario. “On this day, they worked from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m., which may sound long, but for a hacker is a very small amount of time,” Nguyen said.

MedHacks was an “open hackathon” that focused on solving a medical problem that teams considered important to the community. This process resulted in various innovations and ideas, she said.

“I would like to thank Ms. Amy Thaxton and Ms. Sylvia Lambert for their constant support and helping me make this event happen,” Nguyen said. “I want to thank my teacher sponsors, Mr. Bill McIlwain and Ms. Brandy Van Dam.”

Community partners/sponsors helped in funding the entire event with T-shirts, food and prizes: Irepertoire (which sent a mentor to the event), Acclinate, SimTech, Brockwell, Booz Allen Hamilton, Huntsville AI (Artificial Intelligence), University of Alabama in Huntsville, Urban Engine and Signalink.

“This event was mostly educational. I hope the kids learned from workshops and their teammates. Hopefully, these kids also got to know the mentors a little more. I, myself, have definitely learned a lot from this experience as the organizer instead of the hacker,” Nguyen said.

Nguyen’s major hope was to bring her hackathon experiences to Bob Jones and for “we, high schoolers, to acknowledge the constantly changing medical world and take charge.”

Nguyen plans to organize another hackathon in spring 2022. “I hope even more students will come,” she said.

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