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America East’s annual Hackathon to be hosted by UMaine

This March, the University of Maine will host the third annual America East 24-hour Hackathon. At this event, a large number of undergraduate students from across the region will meet to engage in collaborative computer programing.

This year’s Hackathon, which is scheduled to begin at 10 a.m. on Saturday, March 2, and last until noon on Sunday, March 3, will focus on, according to Provost Jeffrey Hecker, “harness[ing] technology, innovation and collaboration to address the integration of the latest in technology with the agricultural industry.”

The America East Academic Consortium (AEAC), a voluntary partnership of nine universities, supports inter-institutional academic and administrative collaboration in a variety of areas and organizes academic events like the Hackathon that are intended to provide students with educative opportunities.

Last year, the AEAC Hackathon had more than 120 participants and produced several award winning projects. While exact numbers are not yet known, it is expected that around 200 undergraduate students from America East universities will participate in the upcoming Hackathon. This estimation represents a nearly 70 percent increase in participation since 2018.

The hacking space in which the event will be held was created, and is currently managed, by the UMaine Center for Innovation in Teaching and Learning (CITL). Provost Hecker, who is also UMaine’s executive vice president for academic affairs, spoke on behalf of the Center.

“[CITL] looks forward to welcoming hackers from across our America East membership to campus,” Hecker said.

UMaine’s Center for Undergraduate Research, Wireless Sensor Networks Lab and School of Computer and Information Sciences will further contribute to the event.

“We will have judges/mentors from Google (also a UM alum), MIT’s Lincoln Lab (a Bowdoin alum), and the owner/operator of a Maine-based CSA who has also served at the state and federal level on topics relating to agriculture,” Executive Director of the Division for Lifelong Learning Peter Schilling, one of the event’s organizers, said.

“We are working with staff from each organization to ensure the problems presented at Hack AE19 are inline with the real world situations small agriculture organizations need solutions to,” Michael Potiska, a UMaine administrative specialist and event organizer, said. “They have been doing a fantastic job identifying interested parties from UMaine and other campuses to get as diverse and real as we can with the problems participants will be solving.”

Potiska said that a major goal of the event is to aid American agriculture through technology.

“We want participants to explore inexpensive technology platform solutions for small agriculture across the New England region,” Potiska said. “Expanding on that, whereas on large scale operations you’d find John Deere combines and expensive high end GPS systems, we want to better enable smaller scale operations with the use of inexpensive sensors, microcontrollers and credit card sized computers such as Arduino and Raspberry Pi to address agricultural concerns in the North Eastern U.S.”

Although the programming will last for a complete 24 hours, it is not expected of all the participants to work continuously. Programmers are encouraged to rest when necessary, and there will accordingly be “quiet areas” for students in and around the hacking space.

“No matter what the end results are I expect to be surprised by what the winning teams will come up with,” Potiska said. “These kind of events are a great place for innovative, out of the box ideas to percolate and float around with other participants and organizations. I have no doubt we’re going to see something new that contributes to agriculture at varying levels.”

Students who are interested in participating in the 2019 Hackathon are encouraged to visit, where it is possible to pre-register. The organizers of the Hackathon would like students to understand that although programmers and computer experts are obviously needed, horticulturists and agriculturists will be just as necessary to the event’s success.

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