Hacking Sustainability

By Alexandra Krueger

H₂0 Hackathon Encourages Coding Skills and Environmental Awareness 

A competition that combines coding and environmental awareness—truly fitting for a state that is both home to a booming tech industry in Silicon Valley and in a constant state of drought. Even more fitting that this competition, known as the H₂0 Hackathon, is held in San Joaquin County where, between politicians and the ag industry, the water wars never end.

But the point of Hackathon is to make sure the younger generations are not only aware of these issues but working to find solutions. H₂0 Hackathon was created with the hope that the youth of San Joaquin will be more aware of their environment and their potential impact on it, using coding as both a tool of learning and creativity. 

The H₂0 Hackathon is a county-wide competition in which students are grouped into teams—together, they work to come up with a solution to a posed environmental problem. For example, last year, students were faced with finding a creative way to save water on campus. 

“The winners made an app in which students tracked their food, and the app gave information about the water impact of their meal,” says Bret States, STEM Coordinator at the San Joaquin County of Education (SJCOE). “They would earn points based on this, so the idea was that kids would be steered into eating foods with lower water consumption.”

And the prize isn’t just good karma for encouraging water conservation: last year, the winning team won the Golden Spigot Award provided by California Water, receiving a check of $5,000. Second place won $1,000, and third $500.

“We want kids to also be more aware of their environment, but also to feel empowered—to know that they are capable of solving the problems we face,” states Stephen Callahan, Educational Technology Coordinator at SJCOE. “Coding gives them the tools to face these problems.”

Bret echoes this sentiment, citing the new statewide emphasis on environmental literacy in education: “Because of this emphasis, it just makes sense to combine coding and environmentalism. These are real world problems that we’re dealing with—droughts, dwindling reservoirs, etc. This competition both makes those problems personal to students and provides motivation to solve these challenges.”

This month’s competition will take place on the 16th and will mark the Hackathon’s fourth year in a row that they’ve brought students together from across San Joaquin in hopes of encouraging them to solve various facets of California’s water crisis. The past three years have been so successful that this year, iHub San Joaquin—Hackathon’s main sponsor—has teamed up with San Joaquin Delta College to bring college-level “hackers” into the fray. 

“This year’s challenge will focus around dam safety; we were inspired to create this challenge by our recent concerns,” hedges Stephen. From the array of dam-safety issues that cropped up last year, it’s likely he’s referring to the near-catastrophic failure of the Oroville Dam’s flood-control spillway. It will be interesting to see what the students come up with in response.

“After eight hours of coding, the students get up on stage and present a PowerPoint or a Google Slide—best case scenario, they have working code,” explains Stephen. “You’re not going to have a fully working prototype, but the more they can show how their app works and what it does, the better they do in the competition.”

Keep an ear to the ground this month to see what clever solutions our San Joaquin students create. With San Joaquin Delta College joining the competition, students will be separated into different divisions. Espe Vielma, Executive Director of Café Coop in Stockton and iHub collaborator, says her hope for the future of the Hackathon includes expanding to yet another age group.

“I would like for the Hackathon to be available to elementary students so we can start them at an earlier age,” she says. “San Francisco and Silicon Valley have programs like this, so I really want to bring H₂0 Hackathon to that level as well.”

For More Information:
iHub San Joaquin
44 N. San Joaquin St., Suite 640, Stockton
(209) 954-3535

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