By Sam Benoit
My first time engaging in the STEM world was my first Hackathon. I knew what they were, but I never understood what it was like to participate in one. I discovered The Mentor Project’s hackathon in February 2022. I found out it was going to be in October of that year. As the days went by, I more excited. When the month finally came, I was confident, but also nervous. This was a big deal because something like an International Hackathon was certainly out of my comfort zone. But I was ready to challenge myself and proceed. There were multiple categories, but none of them seemed to catch my attention. I ended up creating my own problem to try to solve. I had to think for a weekend about a big problem that was conceptually solvable. With the recent school intrusions that had happened that hit me hard being a school student myself, I decided to work with artificial intelligence. But AI is very generic and many people have gone far with it. Therefore, I decided to expand on artificial intelligence, specifically expanding on AI security systems. I looked back to my other interests and remembered that app development was an interesting idea. One way or another, I wanted to implement an app into my solution. I was already aware of facial recognition and technology to identify if a person was holding a weapon. But my idea was going to build off that. From basic research done the weekend of the hackathon, I found out that one of the main problems schools, more specifically the police, faced when a person intruded was they were afraid to confront them because the police did not know exactly where the intruder was. For anyone, that is extremely scary. I wanted to fix that. Thus, using facial recognition along with weapon recognition, I modeled/programmed an app that would give the location of an identified intruder to all faculty members. Via the app, any faculty member (more geared towards teachers with classrooms full of children) would know exactly how far they are from the intruder in respect of the school (i.e. which classroom the intruder was in and how many feet away the intruder was). The app allows the faculty to have a little more control over the situation. They may be able to ensure their student’s safety. If they are in immediate danger, they will know that and can take action to move away from the intruder. These ideas were circulating throughout my mind over the weekend. I then had to write an entire paper about it and make a video presentation about it to submit to the judges. It was a little nerve-wracking, but I stood up to my fears and did the assignment. I enjoyed writing the paper, even though I was not sure if I was doing it correctly. It was my first time writing a paper about any product or idea of mine. The video presentation was not executed well, however. Public speaking is certainly a weakness of mine. After I submitted my assignments, I knew I would get a lot of feedback. There was a lot to work on. When I got my feedback, I was glad to see how in-depth it was. It was extremely helpful feedback. That was the next weekend, and I worked on it for a while. I took every detail they poked at and fixed it to the best of my ability. I wrote more ideas down and practiced my public speaking to a great extent. After a nice weekend of working, I resubmitted my material and awaited the next weekend for my final results. I would be lying if I said I did not want to win. It was a competition, something I like to be the best at. But working with world leaders and people from different corners of the world, I was going to be satisfied with any result. Participating in the hackathon was an award within itself. It was a pleasure to be a part of it. We got together early Saturday morning and saw everyone’s video presentation. Each one was very professional, presenting a great solution to the problem they were solving. The judges then announced that I was the winner. I was thrilled, I worked very hard for it. The experience was incredible, something I hope to do again one day. Working with people from 5 different countries and 6 different continents was an unforgettable experience. As they said, everyone was a winner, and I absolutely agree.