WVU Hosts Hackathon for Women


Women make up nearly 60 percent of the professional workforce, yet they hold 25 percent of jobs in the area of computer science. That gender gap one reason why West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media hosted a Hackathon that focused on women, media and wearable technology.

Over 40 students signed on to participate in the “Women’s Hackathon on Wearables.”  Few came with technical backgrounds.  The event was co-produced by PBS Media Shift, an online publication that looks at changes in the media industry.  Events Coordinator Beth Laing said the all-female environment created a more comfortable atmosphere for the participants.

“They don’t feel like they’re going to put themselves in a bad position by asking a question, be thought less of,” Laing said.

Hackathon Features:

  • Web-panel discussion with Google in California
  • Inspirational talks from female leaders in technology
  • Small-group innovation sessions where participants worked to develop a technology (a device or an app) that relates to wearables* and media.
  • Idea pitch

*Wearables: mini-computers that can be found in watches, glasses or bracelets.  They can perform tasks like taking video or monitoring fitness.


Credit David Smith / WVU
One of the Hackathon teams hard at work, developing their idea.  Judges selected this group’s idea for the “BioBit” as the winning idea.

Innovation: BIOBIT

The Hackathon ended with eight teams pitching ideas. One team came up with what was applauded as the best idea: an accessory to the popular FitBit (a wireless, wearable device that tracks activity).

They call their innovation the BioBit. It would connect to the FitBit bracelet and could measure certain nutrient levels and notify the wearer if they’re deficient. Judges told the creators to try to patent their idea immediately.  There was no monetary award, but Media Shift will publish an article on BioBit. 

The take away for all was about process: the process of innovation.

Universities Represented:

  • West Virginia University
  • Carnegie Melon University
  • Penn State University
  • Howard University
  • Syracuse University
  • Georgetown University

Some thoughts going into the Hackathon:

Hilary Godin (WVU): “I think it will be a learning experience.  Yeah.  I think it will also help me decide if I want to major in something with technology.”

Maggie Kong (WVU): “I know that traditionally there is a gender gap in media and technology fields, so I really want to improve my skills in this event, yeah.”

Katherine Dye (Health Sciences and Technology Academy at WVU): “I’ve read all the collateral that was sent out prior and hoped that that would give me an idea, but I think part of what this weekend entails is not having those boundaries.”

Some thoughts coming out of the Hackathon:

Katie Heller (WVU): “I think that when women get in an uninhibited environment, then we do amazing things, and this really showcases our ability.”