UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – An idea formulated by a group of students from the College of Information Sciences and Technology won first place in two challenges at the 2018 HackPSU competition, held Oct. 6-7 on the University Park campus.
The competition, a 24-hour social coding hackathon, brought 85 teams of Penn State students together to conceptualize, develop and present a product. Teams competed for various prizes through a number of challenges that focused on using different types of software or solving real-world company problems.
College of IST seniors Nitya Govind (IST), Austin Gongora (data sciences), and Mukesh Kandamaran (IST), and juniors Marshall Malino (data sciences) and Rommel Silva (IST) won first place in Google’s challenge for the best use of a Google Cloud platform and in the Nittany AI Alliance’s AI challenge, which encourages teams to develop an AI-based solution to a real-world problem at Penn State.
The group’s product, AIODA, which stands for Artificial Intelligence on Demand Advising, features a chat bot that automatically answers students’ frequently asked questions for advisers.
“We’ve all had trouble scheduling advising appointments,” said Govind. “But this isn’t just from the students’ point of view.”
She explained that while students complain that it’s sometimes hard to meet with advisers, advisers also want to focus on solving bigger problems and not be inundated with minor questions.
“That’s how we got the idea to improve advising to create an on-demand chat bot,” Govind continued, “so that advisers can focus on higher-level issues and on what they’re actually here for, which is helping students. Other questions, like how many credits a student has left to graduate, can be easily automated.”
The team members said that while this was their first time participating in HackPSU, they have worked together before. They are currently in the process of launching a club at Penn State that focuses on emerging technologies. They said that the level of teamwork they’ve established, combined with the foundation of soft skills they’ve built in the College of IST, helped them in the HackPSU competition.
“We were able to gel together as a group because we had prior experience working in groups and understanding what went wrong,” said Govind. “And having that logical structure of how to start our presentation and how to end it perfectly were all things we learned in IST.”