Computing Against The Clock

MARIETTA, Ga. | Sep 18, 2018

Annual Hackathon challenges students to tackle industry problems

Before last week’s Hackathon kickoff event, a trio of participants were hastily exchanging handshakes and salutations. 

For three nights following the kickoff, Benjamin Lee, Aaron Badgett and Emily Barbour – all of whom are students in Kennesaw State University’s College of Computing and Software Engineering (CCSE) – worked together as a team to solve a complex problem posed by one of the college’s industry partners. During that time, the students leaned on their studies and grappled with topics ranging from data analytics to machine learning in order to pull together a solution. However, the first hurdle was getting to know each other.

“This was the first time we have ever spoken to each other,” said Lee, a computer science graduate student. “We knew it would be interesting to see how we could work together and figure out where our strengths lie, but we each came in with the goal of doing the best we could do under a deadline.”


Together, they competed among 140 other students in this year’s Hackathon. CCSE’s premier event, the Hackathon is designed to showcase student talent while connecting students to industry partners throughout the Atlanta metro area. Over the course of four days, students applied the knowledge they have gained inside the classroom to real-world problems posed by sponsoring companies. The sponsors, Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, HPCC Systems and InComm, each issued challenges specific to their respective industries, also lending experts to mentor Kennesaw State students throughout the competition.

The Hackathon began on Sept. 12 and culminated with presentations and an award ceremony Sept. 15. Teams were judged by the sponsoring companies and awarded first-, second- and third-place prizes in each challenge.

“This event is mainly about innovation and creativity, and how our students are able to apply what they are learning in the classroom on a real-world problem,” said Dawn Tatum, CCSE industry liaison and internship coordinator and lecturer of information technology. “The Hackathon is a great opportunity for the students to interact with our industry partners and get connected. Those connections could lead to future internships and even employment after graduation.”


Badgett, whose team finished second in HPCC System’s challenge, said he leapt at the opportunity to participate, hoping to gain valuable experience in computer science and coding while learning from industry experts. As part of its test, the team was tasked with categorizing 200 gigabytes of credit card transaction data using machine-learning algorithms. His team chose to divide tasks among themselves and work from the comfort of home, reconvening each day to track progress.

“We all had to learn on the fly,” said Badgett, a software engineering student. “I knew that I needed this experience while in school, and I found this to be a good way to get my feet wet while competing. In the end, I’m glad to have this opportunity, and I hope I can use some of the new tools I have acquired down the road.”

Monica O’Neal, human resources program director at Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield, said events like KSU’s Hackathon serve as excellent tools for enhancing relationships with key schools and attracting potential employees. Her company allowed students to pick between two challenges, the first of which involved creating a voice-enabled artificial intelligence assistant for parents raising children with special needs. The second involved building an all-in-one app to allow users to manage their health and healthcare spending.

“KSU’s Hackathon provides the platform for us to engage students, understand what’s important to them, observe how they work together and most importantly, build relationships,” she said. “Such relationships are the catalyst for future internships and early career opportunities.”


A total of nine teams were awarded prizes on the final day of the Hackathon:

Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield

  • First place – Harry Haisty, Mackenzie Erickson and Muhatashim Zarif
  • Second place – Andrew Dell, William Dingler and Joseph Potchen
  • Third place – Wajira Abeysinghe, Jin Gao and Eric Tran

HPCC Systems

  • First place – Carlos Diaz, Raj Kapadia and Jonathan Lashgari
  • Second place – Ben Lee, Aaron Badgett and Emily Barbour
  • Third place – Ismail Ali


  • First place – Araldis Japa, Hye Kang and Abner Torres
  • Second place – Altaf Rattani, James Bozhkov and Eric Bell
  • Third place – Brent Einolf, Robert James and Emmaline English


– Travis Highfield

Photos by David Caselli


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A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its more than 43,000 students. Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia with 11 academic colleges. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 7 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit