Looking Back at #HackUNL

April 25, 2017

This past weekend I had the privilege of attending Hack UNL on behalf of both Born This Way Foundation and Hack Harassment. While I have attended numerous hackathons in the past, I was beyond excited for Hack UNL. The weekend-long event, hosted at the University of Nebraska – Lincoln, combined the problem solving know-how of engineering and the expertise of psychology with the passion and creativity of young people to come up with tools that could help make the internet a little bit kinder!

What made Hack UNL unique – and such a success – were its organizers. While most hackathons are run solely by engineering and computer science departments, and as a result attract primarily computer science students, Hack UNL was put on by the members of the School Psychology department. They brought their knowledge to the table while working collaboratively with the school’s Computer Science and Engineering departments, attracting education, psychology, and science and engineering students from a variety of ages and grade levels. Even some marketing students took part!

This event was put on by Raul Palacios, a school psychology doctoral student who is both a member of the BTWF research team as well as a Hack Harassment Campus Ambassador.

Raul and his team did an amazing job, building in opportunities for students to get to know each other at the interdisciplinary event. Personally, what I found most amazing was how the students grouped up with individuals from all different educational backgrounds. Almost every group included both computer science and psychology students. Hack UNL’s organizers also made sure participants had the chance to hear about relevant research to help inform their projects. As a representative of BTWF, I presented research on the power of kindness and the importance of being kind online.

The final projects were some of the best I have seen. One winning project was a Twitter bot that sends uplifting tweets to individuals who are receiving hateful messages with the goal of adding more kindness to Twitter feeds. Inspired by the research stating how kindness is beneficial to your health, another team created an app modeled after popular workout watches which allows you to track your kind acts and compete with your friends, while also setting daily kindness goals for yourself.

The response from the participating students was inspiring, with many saying they would love to attend again next year! As a graduate from a school psychology program, I am so proud of Raul and the entire UNL School Psychology department for their hard work and dedication to this cause. Congratulations to all of the winners and to everyone who participated. It is because of students like yourselfers that we are one step closed to building a kinder and braver world and a more inclusive internet.