On any given Friday night, the Olin-Rice Science Center and the Janet Wallace Fine Arts Center are deserted. Much like the other academic buildings on campus, they are eerily quiet, emptied of their student population until the following week. Last weekend was different.
The fourth annual Macathon competition and the first annual Funkathon competition drew 153 Macalester students, divided into 32 teams, into Olin Rice and Janet Wallace over the course of the weekend.
For 24 hours straight, students competing in Macathon, a mashup of a computer hackathon and a business start-up competition, strategized, innovated and developed ways to solve problems they had identified in creative ways.
“Our app is about working out,” said Yan Jin ’16, a couple of hours into the competition. “I’m on the market analysis side and we just finished designing our survey. We are trying to develop the contents so they look more attractive so that people would really want to use our app,” Jin said.
At 9:30 p.m. on Friday, Feb. 19, Jin and her team 6-Pack, had a rough idea of how their app would work and what it would do but the bulk of the work was still ahead. Eighteen hours later, 6-Pack presented their finished product, built app demo and business model to the judging panel and the other student competitors.
The 6-Pack app, which sets up a platform meant to encourage friends to set workout challenges for each other, ended up winning the $500 third place prize in the competition.
“My parents didn’t attend college in this country, so the process of sending me to college was really harrowing for them. They spent countless hours on college websites trying to learn when and where to apply and most importantly how to pay for it,” Esha Datta ‘17 of team Unifi said.
Unifi’s purpose is to help students like Datta understand financial planning and the cost of college through a personalized platform.
“Whether [users are] in their first year of high school or their first year of elementary school … it’s an app that aims to help to meet the two sides of the college saving issue: both the short term family planning and the long term college comparison aspect,” Datta said.
To Datta, her team’s success in the competition was a clear message about Macalester’s values.
“I think ultimately it means that Macalester as a college values accessibility,” Datta said. “I think that accessibility is the crux of the college cost problem because it comes down to who can afford college and who can save for college and that means increasing accessibility to first generation and low income students who can’t afford college to the same proportion that high income students can. And to equalize these two proportions means that we’re creating the same opportunities for both groups of students and that we’re creating opportunity for these broad groups of students who have an unbelievable creativity and energy that they can put towards to being their own individuals in the baccalaureate program.”
Throughout the night, while the Macathoners discussed lines of code and business models, the students competing in Funkathon discussed vocal arrangements, melodies and musical genres. In its first year, Funkathon, an overnight competition where the goal is to compose, create and record a piece of music, managed to attract musicians and artists from a variety of creative backgrounds.
Andrew Becker ’18, of Bleeding Kansas, described his band’s style as “folky or almost like a Western revenge balad.”
Becker had little experience recording a song before Funkathon but approached the composing process with enthusiasm.
“Right now, at this point of the night, we just are trying to come up with something musically coherent, but I’m just really glad I’m here right now,” Becker said.
Marin Stefani ’18, of the BunkFunksters said his band aimed to create “an upbeat rap song in the style of Chance the Rapper and Social Experiment.” Stefani added that they “want to make people move but also be quite creative and add some interesting elements to the song.” The BunkFunksters placed second in Funkathon and won a $750 prize. The first prize went to the band Kingdom Roots, which composed a song inspired by the struggle and hope by the Black History Month showcase.
“You are all awe-inspiring,” said President Brian Rosenberg during the winners’ announcement. “It really was moving for me to be in the concert hall and to see what you all were able to create in 24 hours. It really is remarkable. We like to take a little credit for it at Macalester, but it’s mostly you. So, thank you for providing all of us with that inspiration.”
Entrepreneur-in-Residence, Kate Ryan Reiling echoed Rosenberg’s comments and added that “there’s just something about what we are able to create, as alumni and students and faculty and staff in those 24 hours that has the sense of magic.”