Spelman College students have discovered an easier way to make big purchases. Their solution is an app they created in just one day at the live BE SMART hackathon. Jett Bagley, C’2017, Mya Havard, C’2016, Carlie Odemwingie, C’2017, and Elizabeth Sengoba, C’2017, participated in the hackathon as part of the inaugural Black Enterprise TechConneXt Summit in Santa Clara, California, Oct. 12-13.

The Spelman team developed an iOS (iPhone operating system) app for Capital One that would allow millennial students to budget for a planned purchase and receive a discount through Amazon.com.

“I enjoyed applying the concepts I’ve been learning for the past three years into a real-world, useful application,” said Sengoba, a computer science major, who recently participated in the White House Citizen Science Forum, presenting a talk about the Innocase “health-on-the-go” mobile app she developed with a team of her classmates. “In a little over 24 hours, our team was able to make a functioning personal budgeting app for millennial students. The summit was a memorable experience for collaborating on a project and iterating through a concept and design.”

Havard, a math and computer science double major, described the app as a useful tool for students.

“It would really enable students to better budget their money toward a large purchase versus buying something impulsively” said Havard, who was recently selected as a 2015 HBCU All-Star by the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities. She is among 83 undergraduate, graduate, and professional students from 70 schools across the country recognized for her accomplishments in academics, leadership and civic engagement.

In addition to receiving an application-programming interface, students (primarily computer science and engineering majors) were tasked with turning the API into a useful financial app for budgeting, saving or making purchases on a mobile device. The judges’ criteria for the winning app included the social impact the finished app would have, how innovative a solution the app was, and whether the students delivered their product on time.

According to student adviser Jerry Volcy, Ph.D., the Brown-Simmons Professor of Computer Science, and director of the Spelman Innovation Lab, the team put forth a winning performance.

“They did extraordinarily well,” said Dr. Volcy, who also serves as the adviser for the SpelBots, Spelman’s robotics team. “Their presentation was polished and professional, and they delivered the material in a way that made the work look easy. Even though they didn’t win, their presentation left a very good impression of Spelman College. Members of the Capital One team even commented that they could almost go to market with their app, with minor tweaks here and there.”

Besides participating in the hackathon, the students had other beneficial opportunities during the summit. They met and networked with recognized leaders in the technology community, as well as received exposure to new technologies and access to resources necessary to excel in the tech industry.

The summit covered such topics as pitching to investors, millennial tech stars, guides to senior management positions, industry diversity, opportunities in gaming, keys to Silicon Valley success, innovation showcases, powerhouse conversations, hacking and more.

Students from other historically Black colleges and universities, including Howard, Johnson C. Smith, Morgan State and Southern University, were also in attendance.

Dr. Volcy said the students’ participation in the summit speaks to the value of their Spelman education.

“I was so impressed with the students’ polished presentation,” he said. “Their well-rounded liberal arts education, in combination with their soft skills, allows them to excel in technical arenas and also have the ability to appeal to non-technical people.”