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WVU Reed College of Media hackathon empowers young women in technology

hackathon winners

Transformative. Life-changing. Eye-opening. These words describe the experience of young women who participated in a women-and-wearables hackathon this weekend at the West Virginia University Reed College of Media.

Forty-two women from WVU and universities across the country came together to develop innovative concepts for wearable technology and to learn how to overcome barriers in the growing media technology industry.

The College teamed with PBS MediaShift to co-host Hack the Gender Gap: A Women’s Hackathon on Wearables on Oct. 24-26.

The event garnered national attention, including a feature in TechRepublic.

“The hackathon provided a national platform for the College’s growing efforts in media innovation,” said Maryanne Reed, dean of the College of Media. “And the newly dedicated Alexis and Jim Pugh Media Innovation Lab served as the perfect backdrop for the larger conversation about opportunities and challenges facing young women entering the media tech industry.”

Throughout the weekend, participants heard from keynote speakers and mentors who were experts in wearable technology, journalism and marketing. The event kicked off with a live Google Hangout discussion with a panel of women in technology at Google’s headquarters.

Hackathon participants broke into small teams and worked together for nearly 36 hours to identify a media industry problem facing women, develop a solution to the problem involving wearable technology and pitch their device concept to a panel of tech-savvy judges.

“It was great to see how different, exceptional and extraordinary all of the students’ work was,” said Dana Coester, a professor in the College of Media and creative director for the College’s Media Innovation Lab.

Device concepts included a hands-free system for journalists to streamline reporting in the field optimized for Google Glass, a bra that conducts regular breast examinations, a fashionable earpiece that sends scheduling reminders and an application young people can use to take a “timeout” from technology for periods of time.

The winning team developed an attachment to the popular fitness wearable, Fitbit. The attachment – named the BioBit – measures and assesses biomarkers crucial to women’s health in real-time. The winning team will have a platform for their wearables concept that includes a series of articles on the PBS MediaShift site and will be connected to a national network of women leaders in the technology industry.

The winning team included Valerie Bennett, a senior advertising student at WVU from Masontown; Alise Bundage, a freshman broadcast journalism student at Howard University from Oklahoma City; Alex Garip, a freshman film student at Penn State University from Hackensack, New Jersey; and Carlee Lammers, a senior print journalism student at WVU from Middletown, Maryland.

Lindsay Emery, the former business development manager for the WVU Office of Research & Economic Development, and Ann Chester, assistant vice president/social justice, project director for the Health Sciences & Technology Academy, served as the team’s faculty facilitators.

“Participating in the Hackathon was an experience like no other. I got to really challenge myself and was able to network with so many innovative women. I am beyond proud of our team and couldn’t have asked for a better group of ladies to work with,” Bennett said. “We created a wearable [concept] that can truly benefit women’s health, and I am excited to see where the future will take us.”

Coester said the event was about empowering women to be a voice in the emerging technology industry and to push beyond their borders.

“Our University is not defined by the edges of its campus, and our state is not defined by the edges of its borders,” she said. “This is the first generation of women in wearables.”

Garip said, for her, the event was more than developing the winning concept. She said spending the weekend developing the wearable solidified her decision to enter the media industry and empowered her to accomplish her goals.

“My experience with these ladies has truly inspired me to always believe in myself and my ideas. I will never be able to thank them enough for the confidence they’ve taught me.”

Photos from the event can be found here.

Read the official release on WVU Today.