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WVU Reed College of Media to host a women’s hackathon on artificial intelligence

Artificial intelligence (AI) has a serious diversity problem. Algorithms that increasingly influence much of our daily lives are created by technologists who aren’t necessarily doing the best job representing gender, racial, or economic diversity.

That’s why the College of Media has teamed up with MediaShift to co-host “Hack the Gender Gap: A Women’s Hackathon on Diversifying AI," which will bring together college-age women from around the country to add their voices to the emerging artificial intelligence market.

The three-day event will kick off at the College’s Media Innovation Center on Thursday, November 9 with a special guest symposium, featuring women at the forefront of tackling AI’s diversity problem. Guest speakers include; Cyber-bullying expert Michelle Ferrier, founder of TrollBusters; human rights attorney and social entrepreneur Flynn Coleman who writes about humanity’s future in AI; and Susan Etlinger, a global expert in AI, data and digital ethics who works with the technology futurist company Altimeter.

The panelists and attendees will outline some of AI’s risks, including emerging threats to privacy and the danger of replicating existing institutionalized biases in AI. The panel will also explore the opportunities to create a more diverse AI that can benefit communities around the world. The symposium is open to the public, giving a larger audience the chance to join the conversation.

On Friday, November 10, the women’s hackathon will begin as student participants break into teams with faculty and professional mentors. This event will give participants a deep dive into the current state, problems and opportunities facing AI, and offer a series of creative exercises and fast-paced activities for teams to brainstorm solutions for a more inclusive AI that meets the future needs of a diverse society.

“We have an obligation to take a deep look at the problems that come along with AI’s opportunities,” said Dana Coester, Media Innovation Center Creative Director. “This hackathon provides an immersive forum for creative women in different fields to tackle existing problems — before longstanding social and economic inequities are coded permanently into place.”

Throughout the hackathon, participants will work with their teams to problem solve, invent and craft solutions using AI to bridge a specific diversity gap. Students will work with prominent female professionals who are experts in collaboration, team-building and entrepreneurship.

The event will feature a network of on-site speakers who will inform, engage and inspire the students throughout the challenge, including:

  • Amara Aguilar , an associate professor of professional practice in digital journalism at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism.

  • Ximena Acosta , a user experience designer with a background in marketing, communications and research.

  • Megan Tiu , Chief Operating Officer of Frenzy, an early stage artificial intelligence startup.

  • Jennifer Ellis-Juncaj , a Venture Coach for university students and founder of Giggle Chips, a learning game that helps prepare young children for STEM education and careers.

On Saturday, November 11, the teams will present their ideas to a panel of expert judges from the media, entrepreneurial and technology industries. The winning team will get a platform for their AI concept through a feature article on the MediaShift website.

The hackathon is part of the “Hack the Gender Gap” series launched by the College of Media and MediaShift in 2014. The series has explored both the promise and perils of new technology, while highlighting opportunities for leadership and influence for women, minorities and other underrepresented groups in technology.

"Working with WVU to produce Women's Hackathons has been one of the best experiences I've had working on events," said Mark Glaser, executive director and founder of "The women we bring together always amaze me with the startup solutions they brainstorm, and their dedication to innovating in media. I expect this one to be even better with the focus on diversity and AI."

Previous hackathons have helped to launch women creators in emerging technology — ranging in topic from wearables to virtual reality to internet of things (IoT). Emerging technology is the continued focus for this series as we highlight WVU’s Media Innovation Center’s “early adoption” philosophy as a strategy for influence and agency for women in next-generation markets.

This year’s message for women is that early makers and developers have the opportunity to shape the future of AI and media. The hackathon is sponsored by Google News Lab and OpenNews .

To find more information about the hackathon or register to attend, visit



CONTACT: Allyson Kennedy, Reed College of Media

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