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RACINE – Eight competitors in the Tech-Prize Code-A-Thon competition here last weekend were awarded $32,000 in scholarships by Gateway Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside.

The competition ran from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. Friday and 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Saturday on Gateway’s Racine campus. The challenge posed to competitors was creating a Smart City solution to what is called a “Food Desert”, an area within a city where people lack ready access to affordable and healthy food.

The competition was open to anybody, and the level of coding experience varied widely. Ajay Gomez, a Gateway IT graduate, had an experience that helped his team understand basic coding concepts.

Claire Krug, a second-year IT/Web Software student at Gateway, said she was hesitant about competing in a Code-a-Thon competition but decided to do so because “it would be a great learning experience,” she said in a news release. Krug won one of two $2,000 Gateway scholarships at the competition which is part of Visioning a Greater Racine’s week-long Tech-Prize competition. She’ll get to use that award immediately as she finishes her Gateway degree.

Macy Flanagan, a Case High School student, said a teacher encouraged her to join so she could learn the basics of coding.

Participants were divided into two teams. A big part of the first day was spent learning their individual strengths and how to work together as a team. The team-building experience was one of the highlights of the competition for most participants.

“It really helped my soft skills grow,” said Gateway student Christian Bass.

Mentors from Gateway, Parkside and Tech-Prize helped students with questions. Tech-Prize volunteer Jim DeLong, a former Carroll University computer professor and contest judge, called the Code-a-thon “one of my best experiences in I can’t tell you how long.”

What most impressed DeLong was “The speed at which teams went from the formation process and started delivering value, not as an individual but in a team-wise fashion.”

Team Solutions Aimed to Help the Hungry

That was apparent when the two teams presented their solutions Saturday afternoon to judges. Both groups presented web-based solutions that would connect food resources (food banks, restaurants, supermarkets) with volunteers who could deliver food to people in need. In less than 24 hours, both teams had the framework of a website up and running. One website was called Racine Food Connection; the other Racine Courier.

The Racine Courier group suggested testing two different approaches: One where food donors delivered food directly to families through a volunteer network of drivers; the other where donations were delivered to existing organizations like food banks, community centers and churches, and from there went to families through a network of volunteer delivery drivers.

That solution was awarded the top prize. Team members Ajay Gomez, Macy Flanagan, Antoine Williams and Benjamin Hunter all won a $1,000 Parkside scholarship for four years. The Racine Food Connection team of Francisco Munoz, Clair Krug, Christian Bass and Theresa Fernandez won $750 Parkside scholarships for four years.

Antoine Williams, a former Gateway student, was the winner of the second $2,000 Gateway Excellence in Coding scholarship.

Tech-Prize volunteer Ray Koukari, Gateway’s Dean for the School of Manufacturing, Engineering, and Information Technology, coordinated the Code-a-thon competition. He said he was most impressed with how “teams engaged all at once” to create a solution that would not have happened without that teamwork.

Contest judge Rey Villar suggested the teams continue to refine their work. The solution they’d started to create could be of value not just for Racine, but other communities

At the end, Tech-Prize co-lead Jeff Daniel asked the group: “This is the first time we’ve done this. How’d it work?”

“This was great,” Williams said. But he and other contestants had a suggestion: Expand the competition next year to two weekends, so teams could present even more finished solutions to the coding challenge they were given.

Tech-Prize Competition Continues This Week

The week-long Tech-Prize competition continues this week and will conclude with an awards ceremony at 7 p.m. Saturday at the Monument Square stage after Party on the Pavement.

In the Idea Competition, contestants will be showing their idea at downtown Racine stores where the public can vote. To find the locations for the entrants, click this link here.

Competition, held at the Gateway Racine campus. For more information on the Pitch competition, click this link here.

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Paul Holley is retired from careers in journalism, public relations and marketing but not from life. These days, he pretty much writes about what he feels like writing. You may contact him directly at:...