Posts Tagged: NSBEHacks

Toronto’s first-ever Black student-run hackathon tackles algorithm bias and builds community

A screenshot of the hackathon taking place in Gather Town, showing a virtual room with tables and chairs, the participants' avatars and their video feeds.

The fourth annual NSBEHacks, a 24-hour virtual hackathon, was hosted on Gather Town. (Screenshot: Genevieve Aguigwo)

 

By Safa Jinje

On March 5, more than 200 participants from across Canada and the U.S. joined NSBEHacks, a 24-hour virtual hackathon. Now in its fourth year, the 2022 event aimed to redesign digital technologies that don’t serve marginalized communities. 

Organized by the U of T chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE U of T), NSBEHacks is the first Black student-run hackathon within the Greater Toronto Area. 

“This year’s theme was ‘Disruptive Innovation,’ and by the end of the weekend, we received an influx of solutions that we could have never envisioned,” says Chetachi Ugwu-Ojobe (Year 3 EngSci), president of NSBE U of T. 

One problem that NSBEHacks teams tackled is algorithm bias, where errors or assumptions in a system’s machine learning process can lead to prejudices and create unfair outcomes. 

D’SpeakerVerse, the team that won first place in the hackathon’s U of T Engineering Challenge, noticed that many voice assistant services alienate individuals by misunderstanding their accents. 

In response to this problem, they created an interactive platform where users can take part in voice games and tongue twisters to test the voice-to-text AI, with the goal of improving accent recognition for voice AI services through collected data.  

“This team was able to create a disruptive innovation by building on something that already exists in the market and opening it up to people who are neglected by these services — people with non-Western accents who are often misunderstood and left frustrated by popular voice services,” says Genevieve Aguigwo (Year 2 MechE), vice-president of NSBE U of T.  

The event also sought to cater to the specific needs of Black audiences in fast-paced digital environments, such as virtual reality.   

The Barbershop team, which won second place in the event’s Google Cloud Challenge, used virtual reality to create a welcoming online space that replicates the sense of community found in many Black-owned barbershops.  

“Barbershops hold a historical significance to many Black communities. It’s not just a place to get a haircut, it can also serve a therapeutic role,” says Ugwu-Ojobe.   

“The Barbershop team created a virtual space that allows people who are unable to visit a barbershop, because of the pandemic or personal challenges, to gather, share information and stay connected with their community.”  

NSBE U of T is committed to supporting participants beyond the hackathon, as they take their designs to the next level.  

“We are partnering with the Black Founders Network to give our design teams a platform to bring their ideas to life and make a business out of it,” says Ugwu-Ojobe.  

“Having a network of people in the industry who they can turn to with questions and reach out to in the future really ties in with NSBE’s own goals to support the professional development of our community,” adds Aguigwo.  

“At the end of the day, we’re trying to increase the representation of Black individuals in engineering and industry.” 

This story originally appeared in the U of T Engineering News.


Toronto’s first-ever Black student-run hackathon returns for third year, going virtual and global

NSBEhacks 202 team

The NSBEHacks 2020 team, many of whom are back to lead NSBEHacks 2021. This year’s student organizers also include Adam Cassie (Year 3 ECE), Rebecca Lashley (Year ECE), Kyra Nankivell (Year 1 IndE) and Boleng Masedi (Year 4 ECE). This photo was taken prior to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo courtesy of NSBEHacks)

Bu Liz Do

This weekend, 300 high school and university students will have 24 hours to code, design, build, network and learn from mentors at NSBEHacks 2021 — an event that aims to equalize the footing of Black and other minority students within science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) fields.

Alana Bailey (Photo: Daria Perevezentsev)

“Black-facilitated events like these are important because limited opportunities are often afforded specifically to Black students in STEM, as there aren’t many of us,” says Alana Bailey (Year 3 CivMin), president of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) U of T Chapter, and one of the lead organizers.

Launched in 2019 and founded by U of T computer science alumni Kyra Stephen and Temisan Iwere, as well as alumna Ayan Gedleh (IndE 1T9), NSBEHacks is the first Black student-run hackathon within the Greater Toronto Area (GTA).

“It was very important to me to make sure that things are easier for incoming Black students in tech,” says Iwere, who has stayed involved with NSBEHacks since graduating. “The technical industry can be very intimidating, especially when you get into certain spaces and realize that you’re the only one who looks like you. It can be an alienating experience.”

This year, NSBEHacks goes beyond city limits. For the first time, the hackathon is fully virtual, allowing participants to join in from across North America, the Caribbean, and Asia.

Temisan Iwere (Photo courtesy Temisan Iwere)

In addition to sponsors RBC, Accenture, Google, NVIDIA, TD, Bloomberg, Ecobee, Shopify, FDM and EA, the event has also partnered with Major League Hacking (MLH) this year. MLH is the official student hackathon league in North America and is providing free access to software to participants during and after the hackathon.

Keeping students engaged in coding and designing, even after they’ve virtually walked away from this weekend, is how the NSBEHacks team will be measuring the event’s success.

“We want to see students feeling confident and a sense of belonging. We want to inspire them to get involved with NSBE after, applying to STEM programs at U of T, and staying in touch with companies from our career fair,” says Bailey. “NSBEHacks is one of the ways to ensure that going forward, we are building strength in numbers.”

This story was originally posted in the U of T Engineering News.


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