PHS students prep for WWT Hackathon with mentor support
PHS students prep for WWT Hackathon with mentor support
Thursday, January 30, 2020
A team of computer science students from Pattonville High School are competing in the World Wide Technology’s (WWT) annual Science, Technology, Engineering and Math (STEM) Student Forum Hackathon. After attending the kickoff event on Jan. 16 at WWT’s global headquarters in Maryland Heights, the students began work with mentors to develop and build a new technology in just five weeks.

Students are challenged to work over a short period of time to build a product that will help their school.

Pattonville’s team consists of Computer Science Capstone students Eli Card, William Skaggs and Kyle Wright; and Computer Science A students Galen Gilmore, Van Grabner, Tajh Martin, Alex Morschl and Grace Ohlsen. Their teacher is Jeremiah Simmons, who said the school has participated in the program for several years and it is a great opportunity for a couple of reasons.  

“The first is that the students get to go to WWT and interact with professionals,” he said. “It's awesome to be able to work with industry professionals and get a sense of what it's like to work in the industry.”

For their product, the students decided to work on building a portal for extended learning opportunities (ELO) at the high school.

“We’re creating a central website for students and businesses to access extended learning opportunities,” Card said. “The idea is that a business would be able to create jobs for students to complete, and students will be able to list their skills and resumes and apply for those jobs. A counselor will be able to review those opportunities to see if they can give high school credit for the jobs that students are completing.”

Morschl said it’s a need for Pattonville students because the current process is not perfect.

“There's technically already a website link on the high school page but it's kind of hard to sign up for an ELO,” he said. “You have to go through the principal and it takes a long time because he has a lot of other things to go through. We really want to make something that works for the companies and the students so it’s easier and it doesn't take so much time to go through the principal.”

Every week, current WWT employees serving as mentors meet with the students at the school to work on their project.

“There is this surreal feeling being a part of all of this because there's all these professionals and people that work on this type of stuff that actually makes a difference in the world,” Morschl said.

Last year, Pattonville’s team won the competition and was awarded a $10,000 first place prize.

“We have three students returning from last year's team that are on this year's team,” Simmons said. “It definitely helps us because the kids have been through the process and know what the judges are looking for. They also know what it's like to build a minimum viable product and how to prioritize what needs to be built and what can be mocked up.”

Morschl said being a part of the team makes him feel like he is making a difference.

“I'm part of something bigger and was surprised to find out that Pattonville won the thing last year and won $10,000 when they made Pete’s Closet into a searchable website,” Morschl said.

To get ready for this competition, he said he is learning more about coding in order to implement that into their project.

The students are now preparing for their final presentation at the end of February, but Simmons said it’s more than just about coding the Java script.

“Students also get a chance to see that it's not just about building the product, but also the presentation to the judges,” Simmons said. “There are high-up executives at WWT that come judge the presentations on Feb. 29. It's not just about how good the product is. It's also about how well can you sell it.”

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Computer sciences students meet with their mentors from World Wide Technology in their classroom at Pattonville High School.

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Mitchell Skaggs takes notes on whiteboards during a mentoring meeting with World Wide Technology mentors.

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Pattonville High School computer science students are shown at the kickoff event for WWT's Student Hackathon, held at WWT's worldwide headquarters in Maryland Heights.