Tech-driven MTSU students use hack-a-thon to bolster resumes

Approaching 30, Marie McCord finds herself a nontraditional student about to graduate from MTSU in May — and mapping out the next chapters of her life.

McCord, one of 60 students participating in the seventh annual HackMT Jan. 28-30 in the Science Building, has spent the past three years commuting from her Antioch, Tennessee, home to Murfreesboro, where she’s a computer science major, with minors in math and statistics.

McCord’s lined up a summer internship with Asurion, with plans to pursue graduate school at Virginia Tech, the University of Illinois or one of several upcoming offers starting in the fall. She was one of 12 students on a team named Dr. Phillips’ Favorites, creating a communications tool for college students similar to Slack or Discord, and named for professor and event director Josh Phillips.

HackMT, a hack-a-thon and project expo hosted by the Department of Computer Science, brings software developers and visual designers together with computer science and data science students from regional universities.

Teams try to invent new web platforms, mobile apps and electronic gadgets during more than 36 intense hours. Their creations included a way for people to find nonprofits nationally and helping match people with different-sized feet with correct shoe sizes through an app.

“It was really exciting to see everyone’s work. There were a lot of cool projects this year,” McCord said, surveying the seven teams set up in the Liz and Creighton Rhea Atrium. “It looks like everyone finished. That’s awesome.”

Teammate Myles Chisholm of Clarksville, Tennessee, a computer science major graduating in May and HackMT alumnus from 2020, said the “networking opportunities with mentors and sponsors” from the event and being in the club support all students.

Both McCord and Chisholm said the support from Phillips and HackMT co-directors Sal Barbosa (associate professor) and Rafet Al Tobasei (assistant professor) make it a good experience.

Phillips said all competing teams “survived the weekend. That shows their endurance.” He’s hopeful next year’s HackMT will also be in-person.

Interim College of Basic and Applied Sciences Dean Greg Van Patten said there was “some super diverse problems they were trying to solve … and able to develop finished products so quickly. And, they’re learning people skills, teamwork, product management, communication, networking and more.”

Championing success

MTSU’s Data Science Club had a strong contingent. They created a way where nonprofit organizations could be searched nationally, earning them first-place honors from the judges. Data science is a fast-growing, interdisciplinary MTSU program that provides graduates with professional opportunities in a burgeoning field.

A team of MTSU students created “Sole Match” — a way for people with different shoe sizes to obtain the right size for each foot, and earned second-place honors. The idea was suggested by Nashville, Tennessee-based shoe manufacturer and sponsor Genesco.

“Our group members were not familiar with the technologies, but they dug in and figured out what they could and couldn’t do,” said Cory McDermaid, Genesco senior director for enterprise reporting, who commutes to Nashville every other month from his home outside Salt Lake City, Utah. “This is very similar to what we do in the business environment, but you do it in 36 hours.”

Team Bee’s Knees placed third and earned the Hacker’s Choice Award. The team created a scheduling chatbot on the Discord messaging service.

Asurion scholarship recipients

Nashville-based Asurion, a global tech services company, provided four $1,000 scholarships. Recipients, all of whom are MTSU computer science majors, included:

  • Elijah Atkins, 18, a freshman from Dickson, Tennessee.
  • Nick Hodge, a senior from Franklin, Tennessee.
  • Sam Thomas, a junior from Eagleville, Tennessee.
  • Stephanie Zhang, a sophomore from Hermitage, Tennessee.

Asurion, Bondware, CAT Financial and L3 Harris were the primary sponsors.

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