2021 so far has held several ‘firsts’ for UNICC, one being the organization’s first Global Hackathon: Data for Good, where international engagement of ambitious students was a rich and valuable experience for all staff, mentors, students, teams and judges involved.
In the spirit of ‘firsts,’ one participating team for the first challenge of the Hackathon, the COVID-19 Open Challenge, particularly shared in this sentiment: Team Trojan Army of PSG College of Technology, India, who, in their first year of university embarked on their first data analytics study, entered and became a finalist in their first hackathon.
Asvika M., Narini A., Nithiya Shri S. and Shri Vignesh S. of PSG College of Technology, after a few months of attending their first year of their undergraduate studies, received from their professor a link to register for the Global Hackathon. The four students, who knew each other from their university classes, signed up and entered under the name Team Trojan Army. For the next few days, the students successfully developed a solution that got them into the final.
UNICC’s Global Hackathon: Data for Good launched on Tuesday, 16 February 2021 with an introduction from the organization’s executive leadership to a global audience of UNICC and other UN organizations’ staff members, university representatives and over 140 students. Following the introductory remarks from UNICC’s Director Sameer Chauhan and Chief of Digital Business Solutions Ninna Roco, Anusha Dandapani, Chief of Data Analytics, introduced the three challenges of the hackathon: COVID-19 Open Challenge, Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement, and the UN75 Visualization Challenge.
From the start of the Hackathon, Team Trojan Army faced several obstacles. Notably, though all students were eager to tackle these challenges and learn more about data analytics, none of them had formally studied it; Asvika, Narini and Nithiya are pursuing degrees in Cybersecurity, and Shri in Engineering.
We split up the work into four different parts, but the first day of the Hackathon was pure learning. We didn’t know how to read the data, how to create the graphs– everything was completely new.Shri Vignesh S., Team Trojan Army, PSG College of Technology
However, through publicly available instructions on how to effectively navigate data analytics software, the guidance of the mentors and the like-minded tenacity to build the best possible presentation within the fixed time frame, Team Trojan Army delivered and presented as finalists their solution to the COVID Open Challenge.
To build their solution, the students approached the challenge holistically. By using Pandas, Excel and Power BI, they manipulated the data and constructed visualisations of global and national rates of COVID-19 transmission and deaths in the U.S. and in Europe. In addition to data visualisations of trends in the virus itself, the team also provided graphs measuring the economic impact of the international handling of the global pandemic, comprehensively tying in key factors such as a nation’s GDP, unemployment and currency inflation rate.
Lastly, Team Trojan Army proposed several innovative solutions to the eradication of the COVID-19 pandemic. One of these included the construction of an international facility to oversee the global COVID-19 vaccine distribution as encouraged by the World Health Organization and UN Secretary-General António Guterres.
The students also included other suggested solutions to the pandemic such as entrepreneurial economic models and an increase in federal spending to jumpstart job markets, in addition to the creation of a mobile app to facilitate location-based vaccine and virus tracking to curb the prolonging of the pandemic.
In an interview following the Hackathon, the team commented on how much they take away from the experience. “In one of the mentor sessions,” Asvika recalled, “we learned that the data has a narrative, and we need to create that.”
The students also mentioned how influential the Hackathon has been to their future plans in the field of data science, learning from the solutions of other finalists and winners. The students came to see first-hand in their research more about the UN and the extent of its work through the data sets provided. “We went from a point of knowing little to nothing to presenting our solutions in front of UN representatives. That in itself was a major achievement for us, nothing short of astonishing.” This was their final first… and just the beginning of a learning journey.
This article is part of a series of stories from the first UNICC Global Hackathon: Data for Good that took place in February 2021. The hackathon drew registrations from a total of 140 students from 54 universities located in 13 countries around the globe, all of whom came together to tackle three major UN related challenges: COVID-19 Open Challenge, Refugee Crisis: Predict Forced Displacement, and the UN75 Visualization Challenge. To learn more about this successful event and its wonderful finalists, please refer to this article here.