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SDSU honors student part of winning Hackathon team

BROOKINGS – A South Dakota State University student was part of the winning team in the Council on Honors Education’s National Hackathon on Food Insecurity, an event that had collegians looking for solutions for those who don’t have reliable access to enough affordable, nutritious food.
 
Honors students and professionals from six universities—SDSU, the University of Louisville, Texas A&M University, the University of Toledo, Virginia Tech University and Northern Illinois University—came together virtually Oct. 21-22 for the intense, 30-hour competition to learn about food insecurity, systems thinking/design and collaboration as part of a multidisciplinary team.
 
Jacob Spreng, a sophomore human biology and pre-medicine major at SDSU, participated on a team with students from Texas A&M University and Northern Illinois University.
 
Spreng’s team took first place in the affordability category, tied for first place in the availability category, and was recognized as the top team overall. Spreng is pursuing graduation with Fishback Honors College distinction.
 
Collectively, the winning team members had expertise in human biology, computer science, interdisciplinary engineering, and communication science and disorder.
 
The Hackathon was designed to engage students across the U.S. from all academic disciplines to collaborate on a systems approach to solving one of the grand challenges facing the world.
 
Students were organized into teams with other participants whom they had never met and presented with a challenge. Teams then had 24 hours to develop their solutions before presenting to a team of judges. Hackathon mentors were available for optional consultations. Teams were evaluated on the affordability, accessibility, availability and sustainability of their solutions.
 
The event was hosted by the Student Engagement Committee of the Council on Honors Education affiliate group of the Association of Public and Land-Grant Universities.
 
Rebecca Bott-Knutson, dean of the Van D. and Barbara B. Fishback Honors College at SDSU, served as an event coordinator and mentor and called the Hackathon a tremendous experience. 
 
“I was impressed by the quality of questions and depth of research that the students brought to us. Jacob and his team—all strangers at the start of the experience—were dedicated to honoring the communities that their proposed solution would serve. … They were less concerned about winning and more focused on offering their collective best in the solutions they prepared,” she said.
 
Bott-Knutson said students who participated learned about food insecurity and how it impacts communities. They connected with and learned alongside students from multiple universities, majors and experiences.
 
Students gained insight and practice with systems thinking and solutions architecture, trained on how to effectively work as a team, and learned time management and prioritization, she added. They could reflect on their learning process after presenting and defending their proposed solutions to a panel of distinguished judges and content experts.
 
Spreng called the Hackathon a fantastic skill-building opportunity. 
 
“I met some amazing people from different parts of the nation. … At first, I was anxious because food insecurity is a new concept for me. However, the conclusion of the Hackathon left me with the knowledge to assist with a wicked problem,” Spreng said.
 
“I got to put my communication skills, critical thinking, research skills, presentation skills and futuristic CliftonStrength to the test. I expanded my horizons on the problems affecting many people worldwide. Value comes from being a teammate with such amazing people, where we got to laugh, learn and help others.”
 
Spreng’s team, The Fantastic Four, used the term “food misfit,” which is edible, tasty and nutritious produce that looks less attractive than what is normally sold. 
 
“Groceries stores, markets and large companies throw this product out because it does not sell,” Spreng explained. “Our solution is to incentivize grocery stores/markets to donate the food misfits. The produce will then allocate to areas where nutritious food may not be available. And, since the food is considered a misfit, education on how to prepare, clean and eat the food misfit will be provided.”
 
Spreng said he signed up for the event so he could take action against a problem rather than talk about it. 
 
This was a first-time event, said Bott-Knutson, adding that she was proud that SDSU was a co-host. “We will continue hosting additional Hackathons in the months and years to come. I would love to see additional Jackrabbits at the table.”
Image for Van D. & Barbara B. Fishback Honors College

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