Student and Alumni News

Camilla Cheng, Shafali Gupta, and Anne Zats, three first-time hackers, comprised the winning team of the Fall 2019 CUNY Hackathon.

Three Macaulay Honors College students were declared the winning team of the 2019 CUNY Hackathon, an exciting three-day coding event hosted by CUNY Startups and Macaulay Honors College. The event brought in 426 CUNY students from the five boroughs during the October 18th weekend, attracting creatives, developers, and entrepreneurs, to solve and build solutions related to finance, health, social good, the environment, and the arts.

Many of these students had never attended a Hackathon before, resulting in impressive new projects and innovative teams. “The projects were extremely diverse as compared to past years,” noted the CUNY Startups Associate Director Faith Jaskowiak.

Camilla Cheng, Shafali Gupta, and Anne Zats, all members of the Macaulay Class of 2023 at Hunter College, won the Hackathon with their game titled “Turtles in Trouble.” The game brings attention to the current environmental crisis and how garbage and dumping affect sea life, specifically from an endangered species’ point of view. “They gamified learning how to save the environment,” said Faith. “The team was very good at articulating their goals, had a great working prototype built out, and a good presentation.” All elements of “Turtles in Trouble” was created by the team, including the graphics, which made their game stand out from the other projects. 


Faith and Jamie felt that student involvement was critical to a successful event, so they recruited a committee of Macaulay students who designed t-shirts and stickers, helped secure sponsorships and mentors, selected the prizes, and suggested career development workshops.  

Faith says that this year, the largest majority of participating students were first-time hackers, resulting in extremely diverse projects with fresh ideas and perspectives. The two runner-up projects were piLapse, a system that would recognize if there are deforestation or wildfires in a forest in real time, and Truly Vote, a system that would ensure security and allow for a decentralized election. Jamie says that she believes the majority of the projects were surrounding environmental and social impact, which she feels are fields of particular importance this year.


Faith reports that this was the largest CUNY Hackathon to date, and predicts that the 2020 event will need to move to a larger venue. “Students know that the CUNY Hackathon is one of the few places they can come to actually build something,” she said. “They exercise the knowledge they learn in the classroom, and let their imaginations run wild.” Jamie added that the Hackathon is not only a competition, but “a really great environment to just try things and make mistakes.”  


The winning team didn’t only take home awards and cool prizes. “I really got to know what it meant to be involved in the tech community,” says Camilla Cheng, “I got to make some close connections with people who just wanted to talk about game development and share current projects that they were working on.” Cheng says that the Hackathon was memorable not only because of the coding, but because of the relationships she formed with other people. “It was such a wonderful experience.” 

Shafali Gupta says that it was challenging to develop and code a game from scratch in a short 29 hours, but that the inclusive environment was incredibly motivating. “I decided to participate because I wanted to learn something new… I was so proud of myself and my teammates and can’t wait to have more experiences like it.”  

The Turtles in Trouble team was awarded Oculus Go VR Headsets and Tile Pro Bluetooth Trackers for First Place, as well as SoundSoul Bluetooth Dancing Water Speakers for Best Team Name.


The judges of the Hackathon included professionals from Goldman Sachs, Google, Gear CRM, KitambaCUNY, and IBM.

The event was generously sponsored by Google, IBM, MongoDB, Facebook, Kitamba, Two Sigma, CUNY University Student Senate, Insomnia Cookies, Red Bull, Fullstack Academy, and Origins.

by Rebecca West ’20 (Hunter)