A hackathon is usually a prime example of achievement through combining force of will, intense collaboration, and copious amounts of caffeine.

Our most recent hackathon marked a special milestone for Starfish. Two clients, Montgomery County Community College and the University of Georgia, sent teams to participate and compete alongside our developers, engineers, QA teams, and data scientists. We gave the teams a theme: Going Mobile, and we asked three questions.

  • How do we reach students where they are with resources that match their needs?
  • What can our technology do to increase meaningful conversations and collaboration between faculty, staff and students?
  • How do we use our technology platform to enable meaningful connections and partnerships among companies focused on student success?

After three intense days of ideation, creation, and iteration, each of nine teams considered these questions, stretched outside their comfort zones, and collaborated on new skills. At the end, each unveiled a project to their peers and a panel of judges, vying for one of three awards:

  • Quality, Operations, and Technical Excellence (QOT).
  • Peer Recognition Award
  • Best “Going Mobile” Project

The QOT award was designed to honor a team that stretched technology, collaborated across functions, and showed distinct technical superiority. The award was given to a Starfish team comprised of Erik Little, Dusan Puletic, Akash Deshpande, Pei-Wei Wu, and Marc Carrion, whose project was called “Mapping Courses to Jobs.” The team built a fully-functional application that used natural language processing (NLP) to extract keywords from a student’s academic plan and match them to available jobs in their area. The audience and judging panel instantly saw the potential of this new way that exploration of long term goals could lead to more meaningful advising.

The Peer Recognition Award was decided by the 51 participants, who chose a project called “Visualize Import Batch Execution and Failure.” The team of Janice Gluck, David Kotsonis, and Darshan Shaligram developed monitoring and visualization tools that provided insight into the way that large amounts of data flow within the Starfish platform. The health, performance, and scalability of our core platform is paramount to our success. After seeing the team’s presentation, Starfish product leadership has decided to invest additional resources in integrating this capability into our short-term roadmap.

The “Going Mobile” Award was given to the project called “Student Success Utilizing Data Science and Proactive Messaging,” created by Andrew Rosner and Rob Vogel from Montgomery County Community College along with Russ Little and Rich Diaz from Starfish. The team leveraged our existing predictive models in a new way - by sending interactive messages directly to students’ mobile devices. Imagine the judges’ surprise when their phones and smart watches went ‘BING!’ during the presentation to remind them to schedule a tutoring appointment! This project represented an evolutionary step forward in ways that data, action, and scalable automated interventions can accelerate the connections between student risk and student action.

Our two participants from the University of Georgia, Andy Rice and Dillon Johnson, were among the MVP winners for their work on a mobile real time student feedback application.

It’s amazing what motivated teams can accomplish with laser focus and sheer determination. The Hackathon reminded us all that technology is an art, as well as a science. When we set aside time - not much time, even - for collaboration and creativity, we took major leaps forward along several exciting vectors.  

We hope that as we move into our annual users conference, Hobsons University, we can continue in that spirit of partnership, collaboration, and dedication to every student so they can reach the finish line. Look forward to seeing you there.

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