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First-Ever Computer Club Hackathon Draws Crowd of Coders

New program further cements University’s reputation as innovative tech program leader

Posted in: Science and Technology

Students at Hackathon

Last year, the Montclair State University Computer Club had a simple request: it wanted to hold a hackathon.

On Saturday, March 30, the club got its wish. Nearly 200 people gathered in the Student Center to participate in the Club’s first hackathon, HawkHack – a 24-hour coding marathon in which computer programmers and others (such as graphic designers and project managers) collaborate intensively on software projects.

Sammy Samkough, the Computer Club’s project manager, said the idea was to build up the IT community both on and off campus by bringing people together, enabling innovation and driving competition through the creation of new computer programs.

“There are some amazing things that can come out of a hackathon,” he said.

Organized by the Computer Club and its faculty advisor Dawei Li, along with College of Science and Mathematics Dean Lora Billings and Department of Computer Science Chair Constantine Coutras, the hackathon drew a packed room of students and other people from the region, who came to create new programs, test their skills and make new friends.

For some, like Emily Gorelick, it was the first time attending a hackathon. A high school student from Wayne, New Jersey, who has always been interested in math and science, Gorelick said the idea of the hackathon intrigued her, because “you can make something out of nothing.”

Montclair State sophomore Hope Diamantopoulos, a computer science major who spends part of her summers teaching kids how to code, said the hackathon provided real-world experience that supplemented what she was learning in her classes.

Hackathons also provide great opportunities for networking and Saturday’s hackathon was no different, with representatives from Google, UPS and Netflix on hand to answer questions, conduct workshops and meet prospective interns. Laser gun and cup stacking competitions also helped to keep the mood upbeat for anyone needing a break from the screen.

HawkHack is just one of the many ways Montclair State is cementing its reputation as a regional leader in computer science programs and innovative technology. This semester the University announced three new master’s degrees in Information Technology. The Master of Science in Cybersecurity will enroll its first students in fall 2019, answering an increasing demand for skilled workers in the field. Research shows that there will be as many as 3.5 million unfilled cybersecurity-related positions by 2021, a critical shortfall that could threaten not just our identities and personal information but our nation’s infrastructure and economy.

The Master of Science in Computational Linguistics, which will launch in the fall of 2019 pending state approval, is a two-year program focused on helping machines process human language and helping linguists understand language through computer models. Computational linguistics is considered one of the most commercially viable branches of linguistics, with major tech companies such as Apple, Facebook, Intel and Microsoft all employing computational linguists.

The Master of Science in Information Technology with a concentration in Applied Information Technology is an innovative graduate degree providing advanced training in the study, design, development, implementation, testing and support of applications of computing and communication technologies. The courses – which can be taken online – include Human-Computer Interaction, Web Development and Cyberlaw.

“By developing new and innovative programs – such as Master of Science degrees in Cybersecurity, Computational Linguistics, and Information Technology – as well as expanding upon our flagship undergraduate and graduate computer science programs, Montclair State is preparing graduates for the careers of the future,” says Billings. “Employers in today’s global economy are in need of skilled professionals whose abilities are both cutting-edge and practical. Increasingly, Montclair State is known for its excellence in computer science studies and is drawing the best and brightest students to its interdisciplinary programs and state-of-the-art facilities.”

To support student success, the University recently opened its new Center for Computing and Information Science, a 43,800-square-foot, $22.2 million renovation and expansion of the former Mallory Hall.The facility, which opened in October, houses the Department of Computer Science and six smart teaching labs and classrooms, a specialized computer hardware lab and nine research labs. State-of-the-art technology, provided by the University’s strategic partner, Sony Electronics, includes laser projectors, robotic cameras and wireless microphone systems throughout.

While HawkHack is one indication of the increasing focus on technology at Montclair State, an expansion of research labs, facilities and master’s degree programs have made the University a destination for computer science studies and for students seeking the technology skills needed for the jobs of today and the future.