NCSSM Holds Virtual Hackathon For High School Students Across NC

Over the weekend, the North Carolina School of Science and Mathematics (NCSSM) hosted a virtual hackathon for high schoolers across the state to compete against each other by creating programming-driven projects that had a social-benefit aspect.

The competition featured 65 participants and 19 final projects, with two overall winners. It lasted from 9 a.m. until 11 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and featured two keynote speakers and five talks from industry professionals.

NCSSM hosted its first hackathon in person last year, but the competition was only open to its own students. This year, co-directors Siddhant Dubey and Yashas Ambati—who are both seniors at NCSSM—wanted to diversify the event and get students from different backgrounds from across the state to participate. The two were also able to scale the event since it was easier to logistically plan things virtually versus in person.

Adding the social-benefit theme to the competition was also new. The attendees could pick one of four tracks to focus on: digital health, education, sustainability and diversity.

The digital health and education tracks were chosen based on the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and how both of those areas have had to pivot and innovate due to the pandemic. The other two tracks were chosen based on the current movements regarding climate change and Black Lives Matter related social justice issues.

The two prizes were given out in two different categories, one being the best overall hack and one being the best beginner hack. The hackathon was open to people from all different levels of programming backgrounds, thus the need for two different categories.

An all-NCSSM team of students Robert Brunson and Michael Erickson won the best overall hack category by creating an application called Observe, which is a peer tutoring program. Some standout features of the interface included being able to type commands into the chat box like “/define” with a word, and it would automatically pull up the definition. The team members each won a Raspberry Pi Zero microcomputer.

The other category was won by Timothy Laskoski, a junior at North Mecklenberg High School, who built a Covid-19 wave predictor that counties could use to predict Covid-19 waves. That category was sponsored by Intel, and Timothy received an Intel goodie bag.

The judging was done by a panel of eight industry professionals based on the criteria of uniqueness of the project, the project’s potential impact, and the execution.

Though Dubey and Ambati will be graduating, the two are hoping to pass down the responsibility to younger students and turn the hackathon into a yearly tradition.

“Everyone was really amazing and really committed, even though it was virtual, and that can be a little fatiguing at times,” Ambati said. “But I think everyone was really committed and put a lot of effort into the hackathon. So I’d say that I was really excited with the outcome. The projects were really nice. I think it just went great.”

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Laura covers tech and startup news for GrepBeat. She is a business journalism major at UNC-Chapel Hill, minoring in studio art and history. Reach her by email at or find her on Twitter @laura_brummett.