Scholar Spotlight: Smart Kookies win Global Hack VI

Kode With Klossy's Smart Kookies holding their $50k winning check from GlobalHackVI

Meet Emma, Bella, Theresa, Caroline, and Lauren – scholars from Kode With Klossy’s 2016 summer camp in St. Louis (a.k.a “Smart Kookies”). This fall they competed in and won the Youth Division prize at GlobalHackVI – having created an app to support the work of St. Patrick’s Center serving homeless people in St. Louis. They gave us the scoop on their big win and other coding adventures:

What was your journey to GlobalHackVI? We heard you had a big win at St. Louis CAPS too, tell us about that!

Lauren: At St. Louis Kode with Klossy, our nickname was the Smart Kookies. It only seemed fitting to call our team at the STL CAPS hackathon the same. We were the only all girl team and the youngest, but we ended up winning first place. Afterwards we met supporters who were excited by our ideas and sponsored our entry to GlobalHackVI.

Emma: At our first hackathon, we went into it being the only team that wasn’t connected to a school, and we didn’t have a teacher with us. However, we knew that thanks to Kode With Klossy, we had all the skills we needed to succeed. This hackathon led to so many open doors for us, like meeting some incredible people. It also introduced us to the idea of participating in GlobalHack VI.

Theresa: Caroline messaged all of the girls from Kode With Klossy St. Louis and invited us to the STL Caps Hackathon, which was located a T-Rex, where Kode With Klossy was! The five of us signed up, and we formed a wonderful team. We collaborated to build a functioning site, and were the only group to do so. We had so much fun in the process- we visited our “kookie jar” from camp, and danced to Beyonce. We had no idea what this one hackathon would lead to, and it’s crazy thinking back to the first time we all collaborated and worked as a team.

Tell us about your experience winning GlobalHack6’s Youth Division prize.

Caroline:  GlobalHack6 was the largest hackathon in the world with over 1200 participants and 156 teams that were represented in eight different countries. The hackathon was all weekend-long at the Chaifetz Arena in St. Louis, and it was such a crazy and fun-filled weekend! Words really cannot describe all of the amazing emotions that went through me when our team was announced as the winners of the $50,000 Youth Division prize.

Bella: The entire experience of GlobalHack was amazing. I met so many other teams and being able to work in an area where everyone was helping one large social cause was so cool. In the finals, we were the first to present and had the only girl presenter. It was awesome because I got to control the website we built on the jumbotron! When we won first, I was so excited and so proud of my girls who worked from 7-11 the day before. All our hard work payed off and the money was pretty nice too!

Theresa: There was never a dull moment- we always had a task to complete. We had our fair share of difficulties, some due to technology, some to lack of sleep: but together, we worked together to find a solutions (with the help of funny YouTube videos, kookies, and power walks). We were surrounded by extremely supportive people, our mentors and fellow competitors who motivated us to succeed.

This hackathon was in partnership with St. Patrick’s Center. How did you choose what your app was going to do?

Emma: We knew that there are some really great services around the St. Louis area, including the St. Patrick Center, that are all doing amazing work. We wanted to develop an app that could easily connect people who need the help to these services. A big goal of ours was to make it as accessible as possible. We didn’t want any limitation to prevent someone from seeking out the help that can make a difference in their lives.

Caroline: Being the “team captain”, I went to a homelessness panel that was conducted on Friday night and learned that 90% of homeless people or people at risk of becoming homeless actually did have some sort of a phone. I took back my observations to our team and we decided on what project would be more useful and most likely have the biggest impact on people’s lives.

What web-app did you design/build?

Caroline: We believe that we can eliminate homelessness through compassionate connective technology and with the help of the many wonderful services that are present in our community, we want to be able to provide a gateway to these organizations. We call our website application the name of Foundation because we want to help people achieve a stabilized home, a stabilized family, and a stabilized life, and we aim to be the foundation of that achievement.

Emma: Going into GlobalHack VI, we all did a lot of research on problems that people who are the homeless face. I read several studies and many articles outlining solutions that are available currently and issues that are occurring. We wanted to create something thing that would make the services around St. Louis accessible to anyone who needs them. On the homepage of Foundation, it greets you with bold colors, icons, and large text. We listed four simple categories of resources, which include food, housing, medical help, and support services. Our goal with this was to make it easy to navigate and understand. When you click one of the categories, it takes you to a map of all the resources within that category. If you were to click on one of the pins on the map, you receive the address, phone number, and brief summary of the resource, so you can find the one that is best suited to your needs.
We wanted to assure that everyone who needs the help would be able to reach our site, so we made a translation setting that can translate to each of the four most commonly spoken languages around the St. Louis region: English, Spanish, French, and Bosnian. Another feature we were excited to add was a phone number that people can call if they don’t have access to the internet or have trouble reading. The phone call can walk them through the same experience as the website and connects them to the same great resources.

Lauren: Another feature we added was QR codes. This would save the homeless person’s information and shelters could update it every time they came with information and print it out for them when they leave. Therefore when they went to other shelters they would have a background on the person even if they’ve never been there before. Also if a person ever gets back on their feet after a while they could take the information from the codes and analyze it to find a way to end homelessness all together.

 

How many teams/people were in the youth division? How did it feel being the only all women team?

Theresa: There were an overwhelming amount of men in the arena, and when we first arrived at the hackathon, I initially felt a little intimidated. But in a short amount of time, I was motivated and comforted by the amazing women on our team. We were enthusiastic, passionate, and fearless, and were not daunted by the tasks we faced, and accepted every challenge with determination and enthusiasm. We met so many incredible people who said they were empowered by us, because we were such a close-knit community of women who supported one another. So many people wanted to talk to us and hear our story, which blew my mind. It was so interesting hearing from other teams about their innovative solutions, and how they approached fixing the problem of homelessness. I felt extremely empowered by the whole environment of Globalhack. It didn’t feel as if we were competing against each other; it felt that we were all working together to combat homelessness.

Caroline: I don’t think being the only all-girl team there was the most intimidating part of the hackathon. At Kode with Klossy, we learned what true girl power meant, and we believe that girls can do just as good of jobs as guys can. When I was conducting most of the presentations, people in the coding community came up to us saying how inspired they were, and the amount of support was absolutely incredible! I think our win has sparked a lot of interest in companies that are working to bring more females in the field of technology.

Bella: I think as the only girl team we really made an impression on other coders who want to include more women in the field. When we won and went on stage, another pro winner high-fived us and said “Girl freakin’ power”.

What was your first thought when they announced you had won?

Bella: When they got down to the second winner and it wasn’t us, everyone else got super excited. I believed in our team, but someone had to be skeptical. So I was thinking, “Did they forget about us? Did they mix it up?”. When they announced us as first place, the entire competition was totally worth it and to see all the other team members so happy made my year. Everyone was so stunned and it was totally amazing.

Caroline: Since they were counting down from fifth place to first, we were all holding hands on the edge of our seats waiting for the results. As fifth, fourth, third, and second place went by, my very first thought was that they forgot about us! But when they said that the Smart Kookies have won first place, our jaws just dropped while our families were jumping up and down with excitement. We gave each other big hugs, and I felt so blessed to be able to call these girls some of my best friends.

Are you going to continue building out this app with St. Patrick’s Center?

Emma: After the hackathon, all the winning teams were encouraged to contribute to implementing a program to help end homelessness. The overall project this implementation team is working on is a coordinated management app, which will help all the agency around the region to share data quickly. Our team plans to help work on this to help make a difference.
Outside of this project, we also plan on expanding our original app, Foundation. I am currently learning how to deploy it, so it will be available for use. Once we get it published, our hope is to continue to build it and develop it to make it even more helpful.

Caroline: What’s really neat is that GlobalHack6 invited all of the winners from all three divisions and anyone else who wanted to contribute in helping build out a system for the different shelters. Our team had attended a meeting in November about further implementation. Although we will not be building out our personal app with St. Patrick’s Center, we hope to contribute to their idea and build out our own in the meantime. The prize we received was super exciting, but I am so glad that we are furthering the steps to help ending such a worldly problem like homelessness.

What was the biggest thing you learned working with each other?

Emma: A few hours into the day on Saturday when we started to code, we were stuck. We weren’t exactly sure where our ideas were taking us. We had so many plans, but we didn’t know how to incorporate them all. We knew we had to do something before we continued, so we took a break from coding and rethought our app. We used sticky notes and made a list of exactly what we wanted to do and set time goals for the day. Soon we were ready to start over basically. Although this was was a major setback, it helped us significantly. It helped us establish exactly what we wanted to do. This taught me that sometimes it’s okay to step back and rethink projects when things aren’t going right.

Theresa: I think I really learned the power of collaboration during my experiences, and how communication is the key to being successful. We all had different strengths and ideas. We spent so much time brainstorming and just talking about what we wanted to accomplish. We were never afraid to ask for help. We all wanted to learn and create something useful, and I think that was ultimately our key to success.

I learned how incredibly talented everyone in my group was. I was inspired by the coding genius of Bella, especially her dedication to programming and her ability to design an amazing site with HTML and CSS under a time constraint. Bella came up with the language translation option, which was something no others teams had. Lauren amazed me with her dedication and fearlessness through her work on creating a phone component, which she coded with Node Js, a back-end language. She handled the difficulty incredibly well, and her dedication paid off. Emma was extraordinary at both brainstorming and programming. She was also the only female presenter of the finalists, and she set an amazing example. I was so proud of Caroline, who was our project manager, who helped organize our ideas and plans in an amazing way. She had so much poise and grace during her presentation, and there was no question that she couldn’t answer. These girls are phenomenal people and programmers, and I am so honored I got to participate with them. I would not have met them without Kode With Klossy, and I’m so thankful that I did.

How did Kode With Klossy prepare you to participate in hackathons and the tech industry?

Theresa: One of my favorite things about Kode With Kiossy was how inspiring camp was. I met amazing students who wanted to learn and change the world like I did, and learned from brilliant teachers and role models who taught me to be fearless and strong throughout the two weeks. I learned to be confidant with my coding abilities and ideas. We used our brainstorming ideas from camp, as well as our coding knowledge. Kode With Klossy really taught me that anything is achievable with hard work, dedication, creativity, and open-mindedness. I learned so much about the tech industry during camp. I learned about how code works, and all of the many ways that code can change lives. Kode With Klossy really emphasized the extreme power that code has. Code truly can change the world.

Emma: Kode With Klossy prepared me in ways that I couldn’t have imagined. The teachers, Taylor and Jamie, taught me lessons that have helped me beyond just coding. They taught me the importance of working together and learning as a community. We almost never worked independently at camp. Everything was done collaboratively. They also taught us about managing time while working on code, something that is particularly useful with time limits at hackathons. I also learned never to give up. The teachers encouraged errors and helped us to understand that mistakes help you learn

How has the Kode With Klossy community impacted you since camp?

Emma: The Kode With Klossy community is the most amazing group you’ll ever find. Every day I feel so fortunate to be apart of it. Not only have I kept in touch with the girls from the camp I attended, but I’ve made new friends from all around the country thanks to Kode With Klossy. We have a group chat where all the girls from each camp talk almost all day, every day. I love it so much because not only do we support each other in our journey of learning code, but in everything we do. Whenever I’m stuck with a coding error and can’t figure it out, I know I can just text them, and we’ll learn together. Whether its help with coding, homework or just sharing funny stories, I know we’re all there for each other. The support we give each other makes me so happy every day.

Caroline: Kode with Klossy St. Louis, Los Angeles, and New York all stay in contact with each other through a big group chat. I have never been in an environment where every single person wants to learn and is willing to. When someone ever needs advice or has a problem, we all come together and support each other. Even though I haven’t met a lot of the girls in the group chat in person, it feels like a second family to me.

 

What other projects have you been working on since camp? Any other tech adventures outside of these  amazing hackathon wins?

Caroline: Kode with Klossy has opened up a significant amount of doors for us. During GlobalHack6, Senator Jill Schupp said she was so impressed on how determined we were and what great examples we showed throughout the hackathon that she presented us with a framed Congratulatory Resolution. She was so proud of us and arranged an in-depth tour of the Danforth Center for us.

After hearing about the GlobalHack6 win, Monsanto invited us to take a tour of their facilities, we asked questions to a panel of real-life women in tech, and we had the amazing opportunity to have lunch with some of the executives of Monsanto. They were so intrigued by how we got started into coding that they want to help more kids, especially girls, our age to be involved in tech.

Bella: I’m actually taking an AP Computer Science class at my school and am in coding club helping younger girls at school learn to code! It’s really fun teaching younger girls and I love seeing them so excited about code.

Emma: Since camp, I’ve made several websites on my own. I developed one called Learning With Style, which helps students learn in the manner that is best for them. I also have taken a class on JavaScript, joined the robotics team at my school, and  developed a few other apps – including one called Cookie Book which helps you to choose which type of cookie you should bake.

Theresa: I have been taking an AP Computer class, and learning about the programming language Java. In the future, I hope use my coding skills to help other social causes, because I am very passionate about social justice issues. I actually submitted a web app idea I had to Built By Girls Competition called “Where To Start” which was an idea for an app to connect passionate women to sponsors who can help them achieve their dreams. I have also participated in the coding club in our school. Some of my friends have joined, and it is amazing to watch the looks on their faces when they create their first website.

All of my passions can interact with code: art, language, geometry, history, science. Topics that are important to me, such as ending discrimination, promoting peace, providing education, and establishing equality can be addressed through coding endeavors, as I have learned through Kode With Klossy and my experience at Globalhack VI.

 

Lauren: None of the would have been possible without Kode with Klossy. I wouldn’t have known these amazing girls, had the skills, been part of one of the most supportive group chat ever, or the passion for computer science without it, and I’m so very thankful for everything that has come out of this camp.

 

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