FHSU student Hackathon team takes 2nd at Microsoft competition


11/14/14 mbd/kb

HAYS, Kan. -- A team of four Fort Hays University students placed second and received a $20,000 award from Microsoft at the Be U Hackathon in Redmond, Wash., Friday night.

The team of Josh Gale, Agra senior; Nick Hoffmann, Allen, Texas, sophomore; Eric Stumon, Oakland, Calif., sophomore; and Brittani Tran, Liberal senior, was one of 12 teams chosen from across the country to travel to the Microsoft campus in Redmond. The company selected 25 teams for the first round of competition in September.

"It's truly an amazing experience," said Tran. "We were not expecting to place at all, there were so many good teams." But, she said, what pulled them through was teamwork.

"It was all teamwork," she said. "We relied on everyone's strengths and used it to our advantage."

"It was great seeing Microsoft and the people working there, and being here as if we worked here," said Stumon. The experience was "kind of nerve-wracking at first," he said, "but once you got through that it was pretty awesome."

The team was accompanied to the competition by FHSU President Mirta M. Martin.

"The FHSU hackathon team brought the Microsoft house down and took second place in the first Microsoft hackathon competition," she said. "I am just so proud of our students, so very proud."

"This team, under the leadership of Dr. Dmitry Gimon, exemplifies the people of excellence who make Fort Hays State University a destination of choice." Gimon is an assistant professor of informatics at FHSU.

The Hackathon was a student competition for app development sponsored by the United Athletes Foundation (UAF) and Microsoft. Its goal was to promote diversity in the field of computer programming.

Student teams from 12 universities across the country arrived Nov.12 on the Microsoft campus in Redmond, which houses nearly 45,000 employees. Groups toured the Microsoft Visitors Center and were able to try out new interactive games and applications.

Special guests in attendance were UAF President and Executive Director Reggie Howard, formerly of the Carolina Panthers and Miami Dolphins; UAF Vice Chairman and two-time Super Bowl champion Ray Lewis; and Dr. Thomas Mensah, the man credited for patenting fiber optics.

Mensah spoke with members of the FHSU team and said, "It doesn't matter what you look like, where you're from … . It matters what you do."

On day two, Hackathon teams were invited to the Microsoft Garage to spend the day finalizing their presentations. The Garage is a Microsoft building full of creative spaces for meeting and brainstorming, all equipped with the technology needed to work efficiently.

The visit to the Garage made an impression. "That was my favorite part," said Tran. "It was great to see the Microsoft workers and watching what they do every day."

Stumon named some of the people who were there, Dr. Mensah, and Ray Lewis, and, he said, they also met one of Microsoft's executive directors, Fernando Hernandez.

"It was pretty cool to meet all these great people," he said.

Students presented on the third day of the hackathon. Each team was given seven minutes to present to a panel of six judges. App development ideas ranged from gaming to social media. The FHSU team's app was URHere, a system to allow indoor navigation, similar to GPS, in large commercial buildings such as hospitals, malls, and airports.

Picture identifications:

From left: FHSU President Mirta M. Martin; Dr. Dmitry Gimon; Brittani Tran; Nick Hoffmann; Josh Gale; Dr. Melissa Hunsicker Walburn, chair of the FHSU Department of Informatics; and Eric Stumon.

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