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U of T students Temisan Iwere, Kyra Stephen and Ayan Gedleh (Year 4 IndE) – executives in the U of T chapter of the National Society for Black Engineers – are organizing the first university student-run Black hackathon in the GTA (Credit: Geoffrey Vendeville)

The U of T chapter of the National Society of Black Engineers (NSBE) is carving out a space for Black students in Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) by hosting the first student-run Black hackathon in the Greater Toronto Area.

The team, which includes NSBE U of T’s program director Ayan Gedleh (Year 4 IndE), president Kyra Stephen (Computer Science) and vice-president Temisan Iwere (Computer Science) will host the event on Jan. 26 in the Myhal Centre for Engineering Innovation and Entrepreneurship.

Participants will have 12 hours to come up with innovative solutions to challenges posed by the organizers and the event’s growing list of sponsors, including Google, Shopify, Bloomberg and U of T Engineering. They can also learn directly from industry experts who will be hosting workshops on cloud computing and other topics.

Response to the event has been better than organizers anticipated: “We expected 100 students but we’ve got people on the waitlist right now who are asking if they can attend,” says Gedleh.

Industrial engineering student Ayan Gedleh, NSBE U of T program director. (Credit: Geoffrey Vendeville)

The event is open to everyone, including those who are new to programming. “Most people don’t know that events like this exist, and even if they do, they are intimidated by them because they don’t really feel like they have the skills necessary,” says Iwere.

There will be prizes for the best projects – including for “best Black-themed design or solution.” It’s meant for the team that proposes “a design that follows the sponsor’s challenge, but also has a component that serves the Black community or empowers Black students,” Gedleh explains.

Mikhail Burke, Dean’s Advisor on Black Inclusivity Initiatives and Student Inclusion & Transition Mentor at U of T Engineering, says there’s a need for more Black-facilitated events in STEM in Canada.

A former president of NSBE at U of T himself, he’s travelled to the U.S. for annual conventions gathering thousands of Black students, engineers and academics. “It’s a bastion of Black excellence, but you usually don’t have endeavours of that magnitude within STEM in Canada,” he says. “But it’s good to see that there are events starting to occur at a greater frequency in the Canadian context, like the NSBE hackathon and the NSBE East Canada Zone conference.”

“Hackathon culture has really picked up in the last decade,” he adds, “so to see one run in Canada that is focused on African Canadians, the Black diaspora and Black people is wonderful.”

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