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Make School Students Win NASA Hackathon

October 24, 2019

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By Ellie MacBride

On October 19th, 29,000 hackers gathered across 80 countries for a world-wide hackathon hosted by NASA. Among those in attendance were five Make School students: Three Seniors, Elliot Briant, Colleen Ni, and Justin Sitter, along with a few steadfast Junior developers finishing out their first term.

Before the end of the weekend, the team not only took first place in the San Francisco / Bay Area Hackathon, but went on to win the California-wide Hackathon as well, earning a spot in the coveted global competition.

Now, they have until Sunday to finish out their final concept, before presenting to a final panel of judges.

Elliot, a Software and Data Science student at Make School who just wrapped up an internship at NASA, passionately helped steer the pack. Leveraging his teammates' unique skill-sets, he helped turn their concept into a fully-functioning, gamified web, mobile, and VR app in less than fifteen hours.

"On the first day, we had less than 24 hours to create a prototype --- we built and shipped one in less than 15 hours. We were the only team that had a product shipped and so while we were presenting, the judges were playing with our app." --- Elliot Briant, Senior

As I spoke with Elliot, he was in between classes, working on the final concept for the global competition, and also laying the groundwork for another Hackathon he plans to attend this weekend. It's not unusual for Make School students to take on multiple projects; in fact, it's what our project-based curriculum prepares them for.

Ellie: Congratulations to you and the team on the big win, Elliot! What was your project?

Elliot: Thanks! I'm really proud of everyone. We developed a gamified web/mobile and VR app experience meant to incentivize and educate our generation about space science as they enter into a mission beyond our solar system to rescue our Planet Earth.

Ellie: Sounds awesome. Can you walk me through the experience?

Elliot: It's called MiTerra which means "My Land" in Latin.

The idea is that you are put in 8000 AC (After Catastrophe), when Earth no longer exists. You're on a mission as an astronaut from the Space Force and are presented with these planets that are going through catastrophes.

On the first level, you're sent to a planet that doesn't have a habitable atmosphere since there's no magnetic field to protect from the radiation from the sun. So the challenge is "How are you going to create an artificial magnetic field and protect that planet to make it habitable?"

All the planets seem fictional as you're playing and once you get to the last level, you find out they're actually real planets with real problems. Mars, for example, doesn't have a magnetic field, so it's extremely radioactive; and so once we land on Mars, we're going to have to create an artificial magnetic field with satellites or something.

After discovering that all these planets are actually real, you're brought back in time to the year 2030, which is when the IPCC reports to the UN that if we don't change our habits, the damage that we [make] to our own planet is going to be irreversible.

On the last planet, you're taken to Earth and everything you learned from the previous level[s], you have to implement in your home planet, so that you can protect it from climate change. After you do that, Earth becomes a kind of Tamagotchi where every day, we'll send notifications like "The temperature on Earth is rising," and you have to go in and solve these challenges.

The idea is to create a platform that is educational for kids so they can learn solutions for these challenges and help us create a better future.

Ellie: That's quite ambitious for a weekend hackathon! Is there anything that you've learned while at Make School that you feel helped you achieve this?

Elliot: Teamwork. Here at Make School, we get to collaborate with different people from different backgrounds, which was definitely helpful to be able to accommodate everyone's individual skills to the team. And since we were constantly shipping products, I felt like it was easier for us in that short period of time to actually deploy a product. I don't think we would have been able to ship a project without that experience. And being able to collaborate with other team members is a very important skill in the workforce that not a lot of people get to experience in school.

Ellie: Do you have any advice for students who may be considering getting into computer science or joining Make School?

Elliot: I think a lot of people think that programming is very hard and challenging and constantly face Imposter Syndrome where they think they're not good enough. When I came to Make School, I didn't have that much experience. I had done a bootcamp, which I felt was a little bit of a waste of money and I didn't learn a lot, so when I came to Make School, initially I thought I wasn't good enough. I think that this is a superficial thing we create, and I feel like with hard work and dedication, you can do anything you want. It's more of a mindset that you have to be prepared for. Not just at Make School, but any environment where you're capable of doing something. It might take you a little bit to learn it all but if you put time and effort, you will do it and not give up.

Read more about MiTerra's award-winning project and stay updated on the final winners here.

Curious about Make School? You can learn more about our two-year Bachelor's Degree in Applied Computer Science and apply to become one of our next wave of hackathon winners [here*](*

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