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Employee Recognition 02 Oct 2019

Ninja Hackathon benefits Alabama public school system

An Alabama public school district will soon have a new school bus route app, thanks to BBVA’s engineering group and motivated college students.

Dozens of employees partnered with Birmingham, Ala. area college students for a hackathon. The coding challenge: create a working school bus route app for Fairfield Public Schools, a small school district southwest of Birmingham.

“We’ve got four schools and about 1800 students, and families moving into the district who don’t know where their stop is, what bus is coming, or when it’s going to be late,” explained Fairfield Schools Technology Specialist Morris Packer.

The hackathon was a two-day break from banking for the BBVA-led teams, who said they enjoyed the opportunity to mentor students, work on a project to benefit a neighboring community, and partner with various colleagues.

Sanchez Tellez: I’ve done hackathons for bank projects, and thought this would be a great way to bond with my team, and to help a community partner.

“I’ve done hackathons for bank projects, and thought this would be a great way to bond with my team, and to help a community partner,” said BBVA USA Applications Manager Alvaro Sanchez Tellez, whose team took first place in the hackathon. “I particularly enjoyed working with students, and taking on a new project from scratch.

Students from University of Alabama at Birmingham, and Miles College, which is a small HBCU located in Fairfield, Ala., said the experience was engaging, and validated their interest in computer science.

McFarland: I loved getting to know the team, and learning more about computer science and coding, and in particular applying that knowledge to banking.

“I loved getting to know the team, and learning more about computer science and coding, and in particular applying that knowledge to banking,” said Dominique McFarland, a senior at Miles College. “The team opened my eyes to new possible career choices.”

Unbeknownst to the competing teams, one team was armed with a secret weapon: Kanidra Stringer, a senior at Miles and an employee of the Fairfield School District.

Stringer: This was the perfect opportunity to learn about coding, and to work on a project that benefits the little people who are close to my heart.

“As cafeteria manager at one of the elementary schools, I need to know if a bus is late so I can hold breakfast for my kids,” she said. “This was the perfect opportunity to learn about coding, and to work on a project that benefits the little people who are close to my heart,” she added

Technical architect Raha Kahakashan regularly participates in hackathons for a variety of reasons-  to experiment with new tools, learn from peers she wouldn’t necessarily intersect with in her role, and mentor students. She also enjoyed the challenge itself.

Kahakashan: We took the same approach as we do at work: The customer comes first.

“We took the same approach as we do at work: The customer comes first. Keeping the benefits of students and families in mind, considering ease of use, and recognizing infrastructure limitations created a fascinating challenge,” she noted.

The hackathon wrapped with presentations to a bank of judges from BBVA, Fairfield Schools and UAB. Teams presented a variety of projects, including apps with titles like “Dude, where’s my bus” and “Tiger Tracks.” One team had a plan to monetize the app with advertising, to fund a tech nonprofit within Fairfield Schools that would teach coding.

BBVA USA engineering project managers Hannah Wallace and Coleysia Chestnut, who put on the hackathon, called it a win for all parties.

“A school district benefited with an app. College students got exposure to coding and real-life experience, our tech recruiters met future top talent, and our Engineering team members logged 600 CRA volunteer hours, and took home some nice prizes, most of which were provided by vendors,” said Wallace.


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