Foreign Fulbright

My First Hackathon: Gaining Knowledge and Connections While Having Fun

November 20, 2014
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Susana Lau, 2013-2015, Panama, at Carnegie Mellon University’s Silicon Valley Campus

In honor of International Education Week, today’s post illustrates Thursday’s theme of Entrepreneurship, and how international education prepares students for a strong, globalized 21st century workforce.

Read how Panamanian Fulbrighter and information technology student Susana Lau participated in her first hackathon this past October – a unique opportunity that enhanced her skills and widened her professional network.

From the moment I arrived in the United States from Panama to begin my graduate studies at Carnegie Mellon University (CMU), I knew my life would change. Being exposed to the professional, technological, and educational environment at CMU, as well as all of the opportunities available to help me pursue my goals, have transformed how I perceive my personal and professional growth.

I feel so fortunate to be a Fulbright Foreign Student pursuing CMU’s bi-coastal Master’s in Information Technology, where I spent my first year in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This year, my second year, has been spent in Silicon Valley, where I’ve been exposed to the area’s characteristic spirit of entrepreneurship, innovation and technology. The extracurricular activities offered here are incredible: networking, technical conferences, and hackathons. I encourage other students to take advantage of these types opportunities.

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Susana, Daisuke, Maria and Tomokazu waiting for the outcome of the hackathon judging process

One of the highlights of my program’s second year was deciding to try my first hackathon with Maria Carrion (a fellow Fulbrighter from Panama), Tomokazu Yoshida (another bi-coastal CMU student) and Daisuke Tsuru (a friend of Tomokazu Yoshida’s currently working in the Bay Area).

This past October, the Salesforce Million Dollars Hackathon was held within a 48-hour period with the sole idea of being a learning experience for all participants. My team and I approached the event with a simple, but meaningful idea for a mobile app called Curio, which uses data from the Salesforce platform. Curio is a quiz-type game for salespeople to test their predictive skills about their customers. Although we didn’t approach the hackathon with the intention of winning, we were recognized with a prize! We completed the hackathon with increased knowledge of our field, experience, and professional connections. It’s really amazing what hackathon participants can gain from these types of events.

I am grateful that my Fulbright experience has not been strictly an academic one. Pre-academic orientations and enrichment seminars organized by the U.S. Department of State and the Institute of International Education (IIE), as well as many other extracurricular events, have given me an opportunity to meet many people from around the world. I don’t have the words to express how amazing it has been to connect with people from so many cultures, even ones I have never heard of before, and share my own Panamanian culture with them.

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