Students’ ‘brainpower’ thrives with MTSU HackMT cr...

Students’ ‘brainpower’ thrives with MTSU HackMT creations [+VIDEO]

By the end of the third HackMT at Middle Tennessee State University Sunday, Jan. 28, there was plenty of cheering, whooping and hollering from a bunch of tired people.

Their joy was the combination of a wealth of collaboration and teamwork and an abundance of lack of sleep from Friday, Jan. 26, until the science fair portion of the event Sunday morning.

College students from across the region joined those from MTSU for the hackathon, a 36-hour gathering of young programmers, software developers, visual designers and others teaming up for projects in the Science Building.

At 10:15 a.m. Sunday, two separate divisions of an MTSU team developing a Ping-Pong game with artificial intelligence were busy wrapping up their creations.

“It was slow going to begin with, but once you get going, it’s like any project — getting started is the hard part,” said senior Serenah Smith, a computer science and biology double major from Nolensville, Tennessee.

Smith’s brother, Ian Smith, a homeschooled high school senior planning to attend MTSU, took part in the event and helped their team.

Judges awarded first place to a team that created “Lawnbots,” a system related to lawn care. A five-member team that included students from MTSU and the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, earned second place.

MTSU students Karla Robles and Marshall Cooper joined forces with mentors Zach Kauble and Michael Millen of SERVPRO and finished third with their “Blimp Race” entry.

Robles said their team’s large red and gold balloons were attached to a computer board with wires connected to motors. The gadget had Wi-Fi capability, which allowed its programmers to send a command to take the balloons up or down or left or right.

Robles, who said she got six hours of sleep Friday night and two hours of sleep Saturday night thanks to her dedication to the project, said working with the mentors was “super fun.”

Admiring Hack-MT crowd watches technology in action

An admiring crowd watches as a HackMT team shows its technology Jan. 28 during the science fair portion of the third annual event in the MTSU Science Building. Eighteen teams and more than 200 students participated Jan. 26-28 in the hackathon. (MTSU photo by Eric Sutton)

Hacker’s Choice winners for the third consecutive year went to an MTSU team led by computer science graduate student Steven Sheffey.

“It’s definitely cool to be recognized by your peers,” Sheffey said. “You have to have a good idea and a lot of teamwork.”

“It amazes me every year how much brainpower these students have,” added Yolanda Greene of Murfreesboro, who serves HackMT sponsor First Tennessee Bank as Rutherford County market president.

During the awards, Greene drew MTSU junior computer science major Vanessa Serao‘s name as the winner of an iPad Pro. Serao participated with all-female MTSU team that created a simple trivia game.

“It was stressful, but so worth it,” Serao said. “ We had no sleep, as we were trying to figure out everything.”

Twenty-seven teams began the process, but only 18 made it to the end, said Dr. Chrisila Pettey, chair of MTSU’s Department of Computer Science.

“One team had a motor short-out Saturday night and there’s no replacing it,” she said. “A few other teams had problems, too.”

Students from Tennessee Tech, Tennessee State University, Belmont University, the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, and the University of Alabama, Huntsville, also participated.

Along with First Tennessee, sponsors included Bondware Web Solutions, CAT Financial and Jackson National Life Insurance Co. In addition to SERVPRO, financially supportive “friends” of the event included DecisionSource, Rutherford Works, axial Healthcare, Genesco and Eventbrite.

The Department of Computer Science is part of the College of Basic and Applied Sciences, and the Department of Computer Information Systems is part of the Jones College of Business.

— Randy Weiler (

All-girl team creates simple trivia game

MTSU students Deeksha Adiani, left, Vanessa Serao, Devanshi Patel and Katrin Ghobrial laugh with observers about their simple trivia game project Jan. 28 during the science fair portion of the third HackMT in the MTSU Science Building. (MTSU photo by Eric Sutton)

Learning about flying balloon technology at Hack-MT

MTSU sophomore computer science major Will Hasse, right, and his cousin, Daniel Ellis, a sophomore at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga, listen as HackMT mentor Zach Kauble of SERVPRO explains the technology behind the flying balloon entry in the third annual hackathon Jan. 28 in the Science Building atrium. MTSU computer science and biochemistry double major Karla Robles demonstrates the team’s second balloon in the left background. (MTSU photo by Eric Sutton)

Hack-MT participants show off their projects

MTSU students use their computers to help show passersby the projects they completed Jan. 28 during the science fair portion of the third HackMT in the MTSU Science Building. (MTSU photo by Eric Sutton)

Hacker's Choice winners for the third straight year

Members of the “Heroes of the Swarm” team pose after being named MTSU Hacker’s Choice winner Jan. 28 during the science fair portion of the HackMT event held in the MTSU Science Building. The team was honored by their peers for the third straight year. (MTSU photo by Eric Sutton)

Savvy techies await third ‘HackMT’ Jan. 26-28 at MTSU

Approaching a third year for the MTSU computer science-run “HackMT,” Dr. Chrisila Pettey, chair of MTSU’s Department of Computer Science agrees that “you never know what to expect” from the bright collegiate minds planning to participate.

“I’m looking forward to seeing what they do,” said Pettey. “It’s always interesting projects they create.”

2017 Hack-MT crowd

The crowd attending the second HackMT hackathon in this February 2017 file photo gathers in the Science Building’s Liz and Creighton Rhea Atrium during the judging portion of the event. The public is invited to attend the judging and closing ceremonies at 10:30 a.m. Jan. 28. (MTSU file photo by Kimi Conro)

More than 200 individuals representing 10-plus colleges and universities will be teaming up to invent new web platforms, mobile apps and electronic gadgets in this 36-hour event Jan. 26-28 in MTSU’s Science Building.

The event gathers software developers, visual designers, programmers, computer science and computer information systems students from schools across the region.

Dr. Chrisila Pettey

Dr. Chrisila Pettey

Pettey admits she’s worried “we won’t have enough food and swag” for the participants, who will lose sleep and work night and day finding ways to make their creations work and catch the judges’ attention.

She’s also glad they moved the date up one week and away from Super Bowl Sunday, Feb. 4.

Veterans from the previous two events, especially given the novelty of the first year, recall conquering jitters.

“People seem to be into it more,” Pettey said. “The first year, people were cautious. In the second year, people realized how much fun others had the year before. Somebody has to experience it and go back and tell their peers.”

As of early January, 130 MTSU students were registered among the 180-plus entries — an increase from the same date in 2017. Online registration remains open at

Thanks to computer science alumnus Michael Murphy, the Department of Computer Information Systems in the MTSU Jones College of Business “will be well represented there,” Pettey said. “He pushed it.”

Participants’ sign in begins at 5 p.m. Jan. 26, followed by dinner at 6 and opening ceremonies at 7 o’clock in the Liz and Creighton Rhea Atrium. The public is invited to the judging portion at 10:30 a.m. Jan. 28 and closing ceremony at 11:30.

To find parking and the Science Building, a printable campus map is available at

Sponsors include Bondware Web Solutions, First Tennessee, CAT Financial and Jackson National Life Insurance Company.

Financially supportive “friends” of the event include SERVPRO, DecisionSource, Rutherford Works, axial Healthcare, Genesco and Eventbrite

— Randy Weiler (

2017 Hack-MT "Furby MT" project

“Furby MT,” a project completed by an MTSU team in the second HackMT event, earned the Hackers Choice Award in this February 2017 file photo. This year’s third MTSU computer science hackathon event will be held Jan. 26-28 in the MTSU Science Building. (MTSU file photo by Kimi Conro)