April 3, 2017

Hackathon aims to create kinder, braver online world


A unique combination of partners is joining forces to host #HackUNL, a 24-hour hackathon April 14-16 at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

HackUNL is sponsored by the College of Education and Human Sciences and Hack Harassment, a coalition dedicated to building a more inclusive and supportive online community. HackUNL is a free event seeking people and teams to explore and develop creative solutions to the problem of cyber harassment and bullying. Gabby Frost, teen founder of the suicide prevention initiative Buddy Project, will be the keynote speaker at the 5 p.m. April 14 kickoff in the Nebraska Union Auditorium. The deadline to register is April 12. Online registration is here.

“HackUNL is unique from other hackathons because we’re bringing together mental health content experts, tech people, students and the community. It’s connecting all these dots,” said Susan Swearer, Willa Cather Professor of Educational Psychology and chair of the research advisory board at Born This Way Foundation. “It’s an opportunity to interface with the university community in a way that’s creative, fun, based on research and is a learning opportunity. It’s going to be a very active and exciting event.”

Following the kickoff, participants will attend a mixer with food and refreshments provided. During the mixer, participants will network to find projects to work on during the hackathon or create new projects. The hackathon begins at 8 a.m. April 15 in the Pixel Lab in Henzlik Hall. Throughout the hackathon, workshops on a variety of relevant topics will be presented from technology partners and students. A pre-event workshop is at 3:30 p.m. April 7 in Teachers College Hall Room 247. Following the hackathon, team presentations will begin at 11 a.m. April 16 in the Nebraska Union’s Colonial Room. A panel of judges will determine the grand prize winner.

Registration is open to anyone 18 or older but is limited to 80 participants. Each participant will receive a free web domain and $100 credit from Amazon Web Services in addition to a T-shirt, sunglasses and other HackUNL promotional items. The winning team will also receive a grand prize package that includes an Amazon Echo Dot and Bluetooth speakers provided by sponsor Coach Cheetah.

School psychology doctoral student Raul Palacios is coordinating the event with the help of partners across the university and in the technology and advocacy arena, including Student Affiliates of School Psychology, the Diversity and Ethnic Minority Affairs Committee of the Department of Educational Psychology, Computer Science and Engineering Ambassadors, ASUN Student Government Graduate Student Assembly, Born This Way Foundation, Hack Harassment, Major League Hacking, Intel, the Residence Hall Association and Coach Cheetah.

Palacios said he hopes the meshing of technology experts, mental health content experts, students and community members will result in some creative problem solving.

“We’re school psychologists. We’re not techies,” Palacios said. “But we know how to collaborate and facilitate. School psychologists have to work with lots of different people to solve problems for an individual child. HackUNL is about problem solving. What do we need to solve? What do we need to fix? We’re bringing key players together to collaborate. It’s like a puzzle, and one thing school psychologists like to do is solve complex puzzles.”

Palacios said he hopes that one outcome will be an idea for a product that can be a “first touch” for someone distressed about online harassment or bullying. That could be an app that students could use to get immediate help if they have encountered an unsafe or hurtful online exchange.

“We’re here to have fun and bring more awareness to the problem,” Palacios said. “If we come up with some really cool solutions that actually work, then that’s like the cherry on top.”

Palacios is a campus ambassador for #HackUNL sponsor Hack Harassment and was selected as one of four ambassadors to win a financial grant. These ambassadors are helping raise awareness of online harassment and spread the word about Hack Harassment at colleges and universities across the country. Hack Harassment is providing resources to help students start a conversation, get people invested, and creatively develop ideas to help reduce online harassment. Tapping into the immense ingenuity and passion of young people to help crowd source solutions is essential to engage a demographic that is highly affected by online harassment.

“We have lots of supporters out there, but our research finds that people don’t know about them or how to access them,” Swearer said. “We want to get help for people before they get to the point of feeling so badly that they start thinking about taking their own life. The hackathon is a unique way to connect experts from diverse backgrounds to raise awareness of the problem of cyber bullying and to hopefully generate some ideas to help resolve it.”

HackUNL is sponsored by Hack Harassment, the Born This Way Foundation/EcoMedia, GitHub, the ASUN Graduate Student Assembly Special Projects Grants Program, Coach Cheetah and the Residents Hall Association.

For more information, click here.

Hack Harassment is a coalition of organizations and individuals who share in the goal of building a more inclusive and supportive online community. Hack Harassment was founded by Intel, Vox Media and Lady Gaga’s Born This Way Foundation.

Susan Swearer
Susan Swearer
Raul Palacios
Raul Palacios