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Hackathons encourage Innovation Campus students to apply practical skills | Virginia Tech News

Hackathons encourage Innovation Campus students to apply practical skills | Virginia Tech News
Hackathons encourage Innovation Campus students to apply practical skills | Virginia Tech News

Shekhar Kumar, another master’s student in computer engineering at the Innovation Campus, experienced his first hackathon at the University of Virginia’s HooHacks this spring.

“I was excited about the opportunity to try something new,” said Kumar. “The event was not just about competition, but also a learning environment where I got to connect with like-minded people from different universities.”

Kumar prepared his team, Innovation Campus students Laxman Muthe and Ashutosh Reddy Pochamreddy. The students knew they wanted to work on a project that integrated data science and machine learning and ultimately “had a positive impact on society.” Within 24 hours, the team developed Fake News Detector, a browser extension for Google Chrome that detects fake news articles. The team recognized a growing need and the importance of being able to distinguish fact from fiction. The extension securely captures a web page’s URL, extracts the content of an article, analyzes it in a long-short-term memory model for text structure, language patterns, and more, and finally classifies the article as credible or fake news.

Kumar and his team enjoyed the challenges of the hackathon. “These events teach you to apply skills like quick thinking, problem solving under pressure and creativity. It also gives you a great opportunity to work together in a team environment. These skills are crucial for almost any career.”

The detector analyzed over 62,000 labeled news articles and achieved an accuracy of 76 percent. This impressive accuracy earned the team second place in HooHacks’ Data Science Stream category.

Alexis Snyder, a college advisor for computer science students, encourages her clients to participate in hackathons.

“They see their education pay off,” Snyder said. “These events take our curriculum – which teaches them machine learning, software engineering, software project management, software design and quality, and urban computing – and challenge students to apply it in the real world. Participants start hackathons with nothing, but by the time they’re in the thick of it, they’ve come up with an idea, developed a concept, created storyboards, developed a project timeline, and go home with a product. It’s that project-based learning application in the classroom, just in a different environment.”

Project-based learning is a central aspect of the Master of Engineering programs in Computer Science and Computer Engineering at the Innovation Campus. It bridges the gap between theoretical knowledge and practical application. This model not only improves students’ technical competencies but also promotes the development of soft skills such as communication, leadership and adaptability. One of the ways the Innovation Campus integrates project-based learning into its curriculum is through capstone courses.

“With every risk comes a reward,” Snyder said. “Hackathons are a low-risk, high-reward experience. You can go home with friends, prizes, knowledge, job opportunities and a new perspective on yourself and the world.”

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