University of Georgia
August 2014
Service & Outreach
Students hack away for nonprofits

The Camp Kesem team worked on creating a new app for parents of campers to keep in touch with their children.

Students hack away to help nonprofit groups

Student teams use technology to help local nonprofits.

Twenty-nine students, 24 hours and five Athens community organizations combined to create the UGA New Media Institute’s first hackathon.

The event, held this spring at the NMI in the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication, aimed to provide opportunities for students learning and using digital media technology to showcase their talents on an accelerated timeline, while giving back to the community.

Teams worked addressing challenges presented by five Athens-area nonprofits: Camp Kesem, UGA Miracle, Habitat for Humanity, Relay for Life and Project Safe. Most of the projects revolved around creating ways the organizations could reach out more effectively to their audiences.

Each participant was assigned a role: programmer, content producer, manager, visual designer or strategist. While there were some power naps, breaks for food and a short walk outside at sunrise, beginning at midnight the five teams worked through the night and the next day with few breaks.

UGA Miracle challenged its team to create a way that the nonprofit could communicate with only its members and notify them about timely information. The hackathon team created an app and also the technology to text alerts to members’ phones.

The team working with Camp Kesem, a camp for children who have a family member dealing with cancer, faced similar challenges. They needed to find ways to ease the minds of over-anxious parents who were missing their children at camp, while recruiting and retaining more volunteers.

In addition to the students volunteering their time, the nonprofits had to agree to participate, as well. In addition to coming up with a realistic challenge, each organization had to send a representative to meet and consult with their respective teams in the middle of the night at 12:30 a.m.

The efforts paid off.

“We got everything we expected and more,” said Teresa Mazzara, community response and teen services coordinator for Project Safe. “Our team was able to create a simulator for dating abuse that can be used in our presentations. In addition, they added graphics to our presentation. I was able to use the graphics this week in a presentation to a high school in Clarke County.”

Carrie Clemons, PR/marketing coordinator for Camp Kesem, agreed that the event was a great success.

“Camp Kesem decided to participate in the Give Back Hack because it provided us an objective view of how we are perceived on the UGA campus and how we can improve our recruitment and marketing practices,” said Clemons.

The team that worked with Camp Kesem created an app and a PR campaign complete with redesigned brochures and promotional materials.

“The Give Back Hack wasn’t just a success, it was a revelation.”

Scott Shamp, NMI director

“I was blown away by the work of the students on our team,” said Clemons. “Not only did they volunteer 24 hours of their time to assist the organization with our challenges, they created great solutions for us that we definitely plan on utilizing. They worked so hard and it is evident in the final product.”

In addition to benefits from the nonprofits, the participants gained experience and learned to work together as a team and build on each other’s strengths, said Kristen Jones, manager of the UGA Miracle team.

“The Give Back Hack wasn’t just a success, it was a revelation,” said Scott Shamp, director of NMI and coordinator of the event. “At Give Back Hack, we gave students the chance to develop something that really helped people. Caring and coffee drove them to make Athens a better place.”

The students volunteered from a variety of campus colleges including Grady College, the College of Engineering, Franklin College of Arts and Sciences, Terry College of Business and others.

Fourth-year student Sam Bond, an art student from the Lamar Dodd School of Art, participated in the Give Back Hack and earned her NMI certificate. She found both experiences to be invaluable as she prepares for a career in scientific illustration.

“The NMI was a very valuable experience and is much more like the real world than other classes,” Bond said.

Bond registered for NMI based on a friend’s recommendation because she was looking for projects that were both logical and creative. Although she always knew she wanted to get into art, Bond said her involvement with NMI helped define her future career path combining website and app programming with medical illustration.

“NMI helped prepare me for the next step and will be a huge leg up for the next part of my life,” said Bond.

UGA’s New Media Institute is an interdisciplinary certificate program that emphasizes creativity, innovation and putting current technology to good use. The Give Back Hack was a signature event of UGA’s annual Thinc. at UGA initiative, an interdisciplinary program recognizing entrepreneurship and creativity.

—Sarah Freeman