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The Reed College of Media and College of Creative Arts will merge to form the new WVU College of Creative Arts and Media as of July 1, 2024. Get details.

Students discuss hackathon experience

Interview by Kayla Kuntz

USC Annenberg

On October 9, 2015, three WVU Reed College of Media graduate students traveled to Los Angeles, California, to attend Hack the Gender Gap: Women’s Hackathon at the University of Southern California (USC) Annenberg. The hackathon was the second in a series of three events co-sponsored by MediaShift and the College of Media. The events are designed for college-age females to develop technological and entrepreneurial skills critical to media jobs of the future and gain hands-on experience with immersive journalism and virtual reality. College of Media graduate students Cassandra Lang and Colleen Good shared their experiences. Learn more through their Storify post and the College’s release on WVU Today.

Kayla Kuntz: What inspired you to attend this year’s Hack the Gender Gap event?

Cassandra Lang: I’m in my last year at WVU, and I am focusing on the future. After working as a graphic design intern with WVU Arts and Entertainment and now working as an instructional designer for IMC, I decided that I want to continue working with technology. When I saw the College of Media’s Facebook post for the hackathon, I knew it would be the perfect place to get a feel for a career in technology.

Colleen Good: I had never attended a hackathon event before. Going to this event combined my interest in virtual reality (VR) and journalism.

KK: What activities did you participate in during the hackathon?

CG: We heard panel discussions and speeches from women in journalism, technology and entrepreneurship. We also divided into groups and worked collaboratively with other female students, developing ideas for a product, start-up or app that combined VR and journalism in an innovative way.

KK: What concept did your group pitch during the competition?

CL: VR journalism is a new field, and we decided that we wanted to give our audience an amazing journalistic experience. We came up with the idea of providing a platform where people could easily access different VR work. VRzine is a virtual reality magazine that allows users to get immersed in the news. The application targets millennials with the assumption that they have a smartphone and would have a Google cardboard or be willing to purchase one. Although we didn’t win, I think we did a great job and gained valuable experience.

CG: My group decided to work on a virtual reality platform application that would allow customers to get news and VR content all in one place. Today, VR content, especially news content, is scattered on sites all over the web or through separate apps. We attempted to solve this problem. We wanted to provide a space for freelance or citizen journalists’ VR content. Through our app, we would provide a channel specifically for the promotion of VR content.

KK: What did you like best about attending hackathon?

CL: I enjoyed getting amazing and helpful advice from the successful speakers and panelists. I liked being in this environment of ideas. Everyone there had something to add, no matter her experience level. I enjoyed collaborating with all of these smart, ambitious women.

CG: I felt that working collaboratively in an all-female environment was empowering.

KK: What lessons did you take away from this experience?

CL: I think the biggest thing that I took away from this experience, as cliché as it sounds, is that I can do anything that I set my mind too. I thought it was too late to pursue a career in development because of my lack of formal education in computer science. Many of the speakers at the hackathon inspired me – showing me through their successes that it isn’t too late.

CG: Brainstorming in a group can allow you to create innovative and interesting ideas you would not have come up with on your own. Even with a fairly similar group of people – in this case, female students studying journalism and tech – the variety of experiences and ideas people bring to the table allow for the development of exciting new concepts and strategies.

KK: How did the WVU Reed College of Media prepare you for the hackathon competition?

CG: Through our experimental journalism classes, we were already prepared to work in a collaborative environment in which all ideas are built on and explored. This helped us foster a positive working environment in our groups, working together to create the best project we could.

This spring, the College of Media will host the third and final event in the Hack the Gender Gap series in its new Media Innovation Center on the WVU Evansdale Campus on April 1-3. Details will be forthcoming.