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Sunday, May 29, 2022

UF all-female team takes Florida Hackathon grand prize

The prize included access to a UF supercomputer and $30,000

The Gator Gulf Energy team hacked their way to success.  

The all-female UF team won the grand prize for the Florida Hacks with International Business Machines competition, of which the results were announced Jan. 6. The team won a grand prize of $30,000 and access to a UF supercomputer.

The team consisted of UF alumna Caitlin Becker and current UF students Allison Wu, Katie Lara and Stephanie Stelzer.

The free hackathon asked participants to address one of six possible challenge statements related to climate change issues, said Lucas Bockstedt, the senior project manager at BeMyApp. 

Allison Wu, a 21-year-old UF computer science senior, said Gator Gulf Energy selected the fourth challenge statement: power consumption. For their winning project, Gator Gulf Energy created a website that planned to harness the power of the Gulf Stream to reduce energy consumption.

An all-female team winning the competition validates the need for more female participation in STEM, Bockstedt said.

“You don’t have to be a 45-year-old male that’s been coding for 20 years — you can be 18, 19 years old in college and giving it your best shot and still having a really good chance of winning some prize money and winning the grand prize of the hackathon,” Bockstedt said.

Bockstedt, 25, said that Gator Gulf Energy went above and beyond with how much it developed.

“They didn’t just go with a simple PowerPoint presentation and a demo video,” he said.

The planning, development, submission and award ceremony spanned over three months, Wu said.

Her portion of the prize will go toward helping her move to Seattle after graduating in May, Wu said. There, she will start her new job as a software engineer at Microsoft.

The date when the team will receive access to the supercomputer has not yet been determined, but Wu said that the team will have access to it for three months.

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Wu already has plans.

“I wanted to create a machine learning model,” Wu said. “I don’t want to give too much away about it, but I wanted to make a machine learning model related to radiology diagnosis.”

She said this was the first hackathon she competed in.

“I kind of can’t believe that the first time I actually submitted for a hackathon, we won first place,” Wu said.

Katie Lara, a 21-year-old UF mechanical engineering senior, said her role on the team focused on research, developing the mathematical model and proposing the project idea to the team. She also created a video pitch for the judges with Stephanie Stelzer, a 20-year-old UF digital arts and computer science junior.

Lara said climate change is important to her. She wants to pursue fighting climate change as a career. Last summer, Lara had an internship with a Virginia offshore wind farm, she said.

As a woman in STEM, Lara said it’s really easy to underestimate yourself.

“Not because you’re not as good as your male counterparts but just because people expect less of you,” she said.

This was also Lara’s first time competing in a hackathon. The prize money would go toward rent, she said.

Caitlin Becker, 22, graduated with a computer science degree last month. She’s moving to Houston at the end of the month to work as a flight controller at the Johnson Space Center.

Climate change has already hit close to Becker’s home, St. Petersburg, Florida, where her neighborhood floods regularly.

“That’s only going to continue to get a lot worse,” she said.

Becker appreciated that there were hackathons being held with bigger issues in mind, she said. Hackathons are great for those looking to build something without a lot of experience. It allows computer science students to take what they are learning in class and apply it to the outside world, Becker said.

She highly recommends hackathons for anyone interested.

“Anybody who’s really passionate about literally anything — find somebody to help you build some technology for it, and you could build something that is actually really influential,” she said.

Contact Allyssa Keller at akeller@alligator.org. Follow her on Twitter @allygatorkeller.

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Allyssa Keller

Allyssa Keller is a third-year journalism major who reports for the Avenue. On a typical day, you can find her at Starbucks, fueling her caffeine addiction.


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