Pitzer students bring technology and community together

Graduation might be around the corner, but the students of Pitzer College aren’t sitting idle just yet.

Amidst final papers and exams, a group of Pitzer students led by senior Michael Ceraso took a timeout to put their acquired tech savvy into real-world application by hosting the city’s first civic Hackathon last weekend. The event, held on the Pitzer College mounds, is part of a student-led effort to bridge the gaps across the Claremont community through computer codes and technology.

While the concept appears daunting, the idea is actually quite simple—recruit a group of talented people from a variety of backgrounds to determine how technology can help build a stronger Claremont community. More than 60 students, entrepreneurs and city folk did just that, assembling under sunny skies on Saturday afternoon to develop applications in an effort to keep Claremont connected.

“Claremont remains a relatively isolated place,” Mr. Ceraso said. “We are still behind when it comes to technology and software. We wanted to provide techies and non-techies alike the chance to make the city more digitally accessible.”

Hackathons have gained notoriety in an increasingly digital world, with corporate giants like Facebook and LinkedIn using such events to find the latest crop of gifted computer programmers or test out new ideas. Local leaders like Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti have also taken to the model as an effective and cost-efficient way to increase civic involvement. In 2013, Mr. Garcetti’s National Day of Civic Hacking event resulted in the creation of more than 40 apps geared at helping Angelinos navigate the local job market, provide an online exchange for local gardeners and helping connecting Los Angeles residents with local hospitals, schools and other government organizations.

It got Mr. Ceraso thinking.

The students of the 5Cs are no novices when it comes to hackathons. In November, more than 335 students crowded into the Pomona Computer Science Building for 12 hours of computer programming as part of the 5Cs annual Hack Day marathon. Mr. Ceraso wanted to take it a step further by holding his hackathon outside and inviting the whole community to participate.

The result was a resounding success with local business people and city officials lending their support. Mike McNeill of the Village’s Last Drop Cafe and Councilmember Sam Pedroza were among the participants.

“We would bounce ideas off each other and chat for a while and then [the students] would go to computers and just start pounding away. You could see the creativity pouring out,” Mr. Pedroza said. “It was really very impressive.”

Even more impressive to the local councilmember was the outcome of the brainstorming sessions. Highlights include a computer application where community organizations and businesses can post events and local deals and a site for use through the public library that connects homeless individuals with the resources they need. Though the Hackathon was a one-day event, Mr. Pedroza plans to meet with Mr. Ceraso with the hopes of bringing some of these programs to fruition.

“These students are using their skills to help benefit the city in a way that we never even thought possible, through the development of these apps and programs intended to make life easier and help connect people with the resources available,” Mr. Pedroza said. “It’s the best example of a true town and gown relationship.”

—Beth Hartnett



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