Annual SXSW Hackathon Exposes Students to Tech Possibilities

This weekend sixty-five high school and undergraduate students from across the country will converge on Austin, Texas for the chance to develop a mobile app.

The second annual <div> hackathon will take place as part of the MVMT50 Experience during this year's South by Southwest (SXSW) Interactive Festival. For two days, the young people will work alongside 40 of the world's premiere software developers, designers and tech professionals to problem solve.

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MVMT50 is a coalition committed to improving employment diversity, cultural representation and leadership development in the innovation, technology, and digital sectors.

"This year is going to be really fresh," said Autumn Caviness, <div> hackathon director. "This year we are having students create an app that solves a problem in four different sectors: business, entertainment, education and health."

Autumn Cavinesss is the interim director of the W.E.B. DuBois Honors program at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin.

Caviness, interim director of the W.E.B. DuBois Honors program at Huston-Tillotson University in Austin, is also being recognized as a Top 10 Innovator during the festival this year.

The <div> hackathon is the only one of its kind, said Donell Creech, MVMT50 founder. It will take place on the campus of Huston-Tillotson, a historically black university in East Austin.

"It is a very unique spin," Creech told NBCBLK. "That it is the only one planned by students of color, it is amazing what they do and how much they put into the event. And they knock it out of the park."

Over the course of three months, Caviness said her students log close to 150 volunteer hours in planning for the event. They get wrapped up in every aspect from logistics to marketing and promotion. They meet for hours, sometimes from 9 in the evening until 1 or 2 in the morning - planning, strategizing and brainstorming.

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"I have to be cognizant that they have midterms soon," she laughs. "I get all excited - my students know. We all get wrapped up and excited."

Caviness believes in the power of <div> hackathon. Over the course of 48 hours young people of color develop something that did not exist before. In the end they realize they have a place in tech.

"There is a character on the show 'The Wire' by the name of Dukie. In one episode Dukie asks the question, 'How do I get from here to the rest of the world,'" she reflects. "As an educator that is incredibly profound to me - 'how do I get from here to what the rest of the world has to offer?' Many of my students are first-generation college students, so I want [students of color] to see that there is bigger than Snapchat and Instagram; that there is bigger than Austin or their local communities."

Through <div> hackathon, Caviness hopes their accomplishments while in Austin will connect them to what is going in the rest of the world.

For Creech, <div> hackathon is one way of fulfilling the Greek Proverb, "A society grows when old men plant trees whose shade they know they shall never sit in."

"We are planting a seed that we are never going to see the shade from."

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