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USJ to Hold Inaugural Blue Jay Hack-A-Thon for High Schoolers

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High school students are invited to attend the first-ever hackathon hosted by the University of Saint Joseph in West Hartford.


High school computer programmers will have a chance to win a $2,024 scholarship to University of Saint Joseph at the inaugural Blue Jay Hack-A-Thon on Saturday, Jan. 20 from 9 a.m. to 9:30 p.m.

The Hack-a-Thon will be held in USJ’s Bruyette Athenaeum and is open to all high school students in grades 9-12. The all-day multi-tiered computer programming competition will also include educational and mentoring sessions with industry professionals. Competitors will sign up in either entry or advanced level categories and compete with teens at their own skill level. The winner in the advanced level will win a $2,024 scholarship toward tuition at USJ.

While the word “hacker” has become a somewhat negative term, the word originally referred to a person with computer programming skills, said Prof. Tom Calabrese, Ph.D., associate professor of Mathematics and Computer Science and director of the Computer Science Program at USJ. According to the organization Major League Hacking, hack-a-thons are “invention marathons.”

“For this hack-a-thon we will bring a bunch of high school students together to write programs in a computer language, coming up with a creative technological solution to a real-world problem,” said Calabrese. “The idea is that it is a ‘marathon’ – a long-term event.”

At the start of the Hack-A-Thon, participants will be given a mystery topic/problem. After a presentation on the topic, the participants will begin working to find a creative technological solution to the problem. All participants must bring their own computer device. “We will be looking for creativity, innovation, resourcefulness, good problem-solving and efficiency,” Calabrese said.

In addition, each student will be assigned a mentor – USJ faculty or student – who can assist them if they need help or to “point them in the right direction,” Calabrese said. “The idea is to facilitate success.”

The day will also be an educational experience. From 11 a.m.-5 p.m., USJ will offer presentations from experts in the field, including Adjunct Professor Jim Sheusi on “Developing Mobile Code”; Nick Garvey of Axiotrope LLC, presenting “Using IDE Replit To Build Backend Services”; and Dr. Calabrese, who will speak on “The Impact of AI in Programming over the Next Ten Years.”

The computer languages that the competitors will be able to use during the Hack-a-Thon are a combination of Python, C, C++, CSS, C#, Java, Java Script, HTML, and PHP. The contestants will program in the various computer languages in the Replit IDE.

“The idea is to engage young people in taking an interest in computers, which is very important,” Calabrese said. “Right now, for every graduate with a degree in computer science, there are 2.2 jobs available. There is a real shortage of computer professionals.”

When the Hack-A-Thon ends at 9:30 p.m., winners in both the entry-level and the advanced level will be announced.

The cost for participating students is $20; They will receive a t-shirt; breakfast, lunch and dinner; and will have access to the campus and athletic events held on the same day. The cost for parents and guests is $10, which also provides them access to the campus/athletic events. The registration deadline is Jan. 18.

For more information or to register, please go to: https://apply.usj.edu/register/bluejayhackathon

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