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ND students participate in #hackINvTX Challenge

| Thursday, February 19, 2015

Although the name may give the initial impression of computer crime, Notre Dame students participating in the three-week #hackINvTX Challenge are working for the good of the Indiana and Texas governments. Each state has presented its residents with two challenges in the hackathon, which comes to a close next Monday.

In the case of Indiana, participants are required to either “create a centralized, streamlined and secure platform for receiving, tracking and collaborating on permit applications” for the Department of Environmental Management (IDEM) or to “develop a method to register and create a checklist of available/needed services for [residents] visiting a One Stop Shop after a disaster” for the Department of Homeland Security, according to a government press release.

The ongoing hackathon will allow “residents of both states to create applications that support and inspire entrepreneurship and digital government innovation, encourage government transparency and open data and promote interstate collaboration and competition,” the press release stated.

Junior Liam Chan is part of a three-student team working on the permit application platform.

“Currently, people submit permits, documents, updates and such through the IDEM. It’s basically a paper-based system, quite inefficient,” said Chan, an IT management major. “Our team is trying to streamline that process so that it’s no longer paper-based, so people can submit digital copies and such.

“For example, an application for a landfill that we saw at the office is seven binders full of paper. And that’s for one landfill. So you can imagine if you’re trying to build a factory downtown or even if you’re a farmer, and you get about 600 cattle that create waste. That’s something you need a permit for as well,” Chan said.

The students are “working a lot on their own,” according to Don Ginocchio, who is SAP’s University Alliances Director assigned to Notre Dame. Ginocchio pointed out there are 10 faculty and staff mentors who have volunteered their time to help with the hackathon.

One of the mentors, Matt Willmore, mobileND program manager, said, “It’s easy to look at a problem and just start coding and not really have an idea about where you’re going to end. But [mentors are] helping them to understand what’s the scope … and zero in on what to spend our time on.”

However, Ginocchio admitted that the length of the hackathon is not entirely ideal for full-time students.

“There’s always a challenge at Notre Dame, particularly something of this nature that’s spread out over three or four weeks, that other things like classwork and other priorities get in the way,” he said. “That’s true of any three-week effort, and I don’t think it’s unique to our situation. And actually, this is part of a series of hackathons. In the future, they’re going to try to do it over a shorter time frame — a day or two — so that people can really focus.”

Chan mentioned his involvement in Bengal Bouts this month and Junior Parents Weekend starting Friday.

“We’re definitely feeling the time constraint,” he said.

Nonetheless, there was a general consensus the effort put into the hackathon was well worth it.

“We hope that whether we take this project to the next stage, or a different team does or if the state finds a company to expand our solution, we wish them the best of luck and hope there are people who would benefit from this,” Chan said.

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About Samuel Chan

Samuel Chan is a sophomore exchange student from the University of Hong Kong, double majoring in journalism and marketing. He lives in Knott Hall and has spent his life back and forth between Hong Kong and the East Coast.

Contact Samuel

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