Indiana youths use STEM skills to identify solutions for real-world problems during ‘hackathon’

When COVID-19 restrictions forced the cancellation of an in-person computer science event, Indiana 4-H leaders with Purdue Extension quickly shifted gears, organizing a hackathon —a virtual gathering where users put their coding and technology skills into action to solve real-world problems. With help from mentors, 85 4-H’ers between the ages of 12 and 18 were tasked with coming up with computer programs that could help provide mental health services, identify food deserts, pinpoint pest issues in crop fields and prepare farmers for grain sales. Students had four days to develop their programs and to edit videos explaining their work. The grand-prize winner created ayouth-focused mental health resource for an Indiana county. The reserve grand-prize winner’s app identified food deserts and helped people find volunteer opportunities.Developing STEM —science, technology, engineering and math —skills is important, as math literacy scores in the U.S. have fallen behindmany other countries. STEM challenges such asthe hackathon not only develop these skills, which will serve youthswell as they prepare for college and careers, but also bring attention to issues affecting society and empower them to help provide solutions.

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