Innovative GW Students Unite to Solve Real Challenge in Hackathon Competition | GW today

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By Nick Erickson

Those who travel by plane frequently – or even infrequently – can relate to the scene in the movie “Home Alone” when the McCallisters desperately sprint through a crowded airport in hopes of getting through the gate before it closes. Let’s face it, getting from home to take off is stressful.

According to a 2019 Forbes study, 63% of airline passengers said their greatest anxiety on the day of travel was just getting to the airport. With factors such as unpredictable traffic, the availability of carpooling, and perhaps the lack of familiarity with the airport layout, it’s easy to see why and it’s plausible to assume that customers would be open to an app or to a tool to reduce their pre-flight anxiety.

During the Innovate the Future of Travel Tech: From House to Gate hackathon in November, students at George Washington University had a week to come up with such a concept. Organized by the Office of Innovation and Entrepreneurship in partnership with CirrusLabs, George Hacks and the SEAS Innovation Center, the hackathon presented students with a real challenge in the travel industry and asked them to find a way to improve the pre -flight. travel experience with a new application for smartphone or tablet.

GW’s undergraduate and graduate students, regardless of their school or major, were invited to come together for a virtual session on November 12 and form teams, after which they spent a week preparing their argument. On November 19, four teams had five minutes to present their idea in person to a panel of judges at Science and Engineering Hall. The judges then had five minutes to ask questions. The teams were also tasked with making a one-minute advertising video just four hours before pitch time.

“Hackathons present unique learning opportunities for our students,” said Kate Heath, Director of Student Entrepreneurship, MBA’10, who thanked CirrusLabs for their partnership. “These events expose them to real-world problems under real-world circumstances: collaborating with new people, solving problems on the fly, getting creative within a given set of settings, and presenting ideas with confidence. Students can also interact with and learn from our sponsors, which is extremely rewarding for everyone involved. This is OIE programming at its best – providing valuable experiential learning opportunities that benefit students as well as our community of alumni and sponsors. “

Prior to the November 12 virtual session, Winnie Lokule, major in Organizational Sciences and English, Brooke Werp, computer science student, Darika Shaibekova and Garrett Ramela, interdisciplinary business student, had never met and had only met each other. ‘in-person for the first time the day before his location. That didn’t stop their team from coming away with the winning prize – $ 1,000 and an invitation to interview for a vacant position at CirrusLabs – for their app idea, called JetBridge.

The app would ask customers to complete a pre-flight questionnaire based on preferred arrival time at the airport, which would help the traveler get to the TSA line closest to their boarding gate. They also came up with a coordinated color system, which Mr Ramela thought of during a phone conversation with a friend the night before, showing wait times for queues at the airport – red for long, green for short.

“It was really about putting yourself in the customer’s shoes and saying ‘Hey, what would work for me?’ ”Said Mr. Ramela. “I would like it to be easy and simple. So, it was just a little crazy to see how that turned out. ”

The creators of JetBridge built a social contract into their app, as they devised convenient ways for customers to let others know about obstacles ranging from traffic on the way to TSA wait times. The judges commended this approach.

“People don’t want to be frustrated, so it’s a way of coming together to make it easier for all of us,” Ms. Lokule said. “By putting data into the app, we believe you are helping not only yourself, but others as well. It kind of becomes a community experience.

In addition to the JetBridge team, SEAS students ChiYun Chen, Will Heinzel, Aaliah Amosu, and School of Business student Claudio Sebastian Escudero won the $ 500 machine learning prize. The four competing teams were automatically entered into GW’s New Venture competition in the spring, and in the eyes of organizers and judges, executed the hackathon’s mission of applying classroom work to solving a real-world challenge.

“In my opinion, a hackathon is an incredible event in terms of talent, technique and innovation,” said Naeem Hussein, COO of CirrusLabs, MS ’99. “We still have some expectation, but the creative concepts we’ve seen coming out of hackathons always exceed our expectations. “

All four teams appeared to be doing it, as Mr. Stein noted that everyone’s speech was compelling. Entrepreneurship students may get another shot at a hackathon this academic year as George Hacks, a non-profit organization run by GW students and catalyzing innovation in healthcare , will host its fifth annual 24-hour hackathon in January.

More than anything, a hackathon competition allows students from various disciplines across campus to come together for a real-world challenge where everyone benefits. Anxiety at the airport is an inclusive club, and the more ideas that come together to combat it, the better.

“The diversity among all of our ideas made the end product so much better,” said Ramela. “That’s a big part of why it ended up becoming something. “


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