Create a Better NYU Hackathon

By Madeline Friedman | February 26, 2014

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Students Build Apps to Navigate NYU

For over 24 hours in early December, NYU students, professors and alumni got together to code and build apps, websites, or data visualizations at the “Create a Better NYU” Hackathon. Their assignment was to come up with technology-based ways to make life easier at NYU.

This was the first year of the event, which is the brainchild of NYU-Abu Dhabi senior Juan Felipe Beltran. Beltran founded the Research and Development Committee at NYU-Abu Dhabi, which harnesses local university talent to improve the infrastructure used by students, faculty, and administration. “One of our main challenges has been developing ideas and showing the university that student-created work is worth not just pursuing, but nurturing,” Beltran said. “The Hackathon seemed like a fantastic way to show how students can and will change the university for the better if given the chance.”

Participants were given access to datasets from NYU Housing, Dining, Athletics, and Public Safety and were tasked with creating applications.

Students and Alumni Use Apps for Maps

CAS seniors Benjamin Xie, Chris Williams, and Daniel Padawer created the Hackathon’s first-place-winning BobStreet app, which helps locate books in Bobst Library. The web app allows a user to enter the title of a book in order to find out which floor the book is located on and provides a map to find it. They got the idea when Xie recently went to the library to find a book and found that the process of using the Bobst site to locate the book was sometimes difficult. The team used maps of where books in Bobst are located, along with a dataset of almost 150,000 books with author, title, subtitle, major, and department, to create the app, Padawer said.

BobStreet, created by Benjamin Xie, Chris Williams, and Daniel Padawer

BobStreet, created by Benjamin Xie, Chris Williams, and Daniel Padawer

Second place went to NYU School of Engineering alumnus Wayne Jones, who created NYU SafeWalk. SafeWalk, Jones said, “is a web app that displays all reported crime around the NYU area (including time and incident details) and allows users to plan and customize their route from their current location to the selected NYU dorm in order to avoid high crime spot areas.”

NYU Students at the Forefront of Innovation

Jones said his project and other Hackathon projects are examples of how student innovation can be faster than university innovation, and in some cases, faster than state and federal innovation. Just two days after the Hackathon, Jones said, the NYPD came out with their Interactive Crime Map. He said that the department probably spent months on the map. “This is a prime example of how students are able to create and innovate faster with access to open data and an idea,” he said.

“If students are given the right means, student innovation can be faster than university innovation simply because students understand their own problems and needs far better than the university,” Xie said. “Ignorance of student issues can be due to reasons such as lack of communication or latency in realizing the magnitude of an issue. To have gotten the University to build BobStreet probably would have required meetings with the proper administrators, determination of how widespread the book-searching problem was, and whether it was worth it to fix the issue. How were we persuaded to solve this problem? Somebody merely suggested we do it.”

Data and Future Opportunities

The 2014 spring semester and beyond will provide students with more opportunities to examine new data sets and create even more apps that will enhance the NYU student experience. The University is currently piloting a service that would allow students to request data sets for application programming interfaces (APIs). Terms of use, a data catalogue, and a “sandbox” server space will all be included in the spring pilot.