If you want to have an existential crisis right now, think back to what you accomplished in the past 24 hours. Now compare it to what over 150 students will accomplish February 24 to 25. Participants of Macathon will identify and solve a problem, while Funkathoners will compose and record a piece of original music. It makes finishing that paper sound somewhat insignificant, right?
For the past five years, teams of three to six Macalester students have dedicated themselves to a full day of developing something that addresses a problem – any problem — from the struggle of creating the perfect playlist to that of planning an effective workout. This is “Macathon,” a spin on the typical “hackathon” at many college campuses, where students are tasked with writing code and creating something like an app or website in 24 hours.
With Macalester’s recent increased focus on entrepreneurship — as evidenced by new entrepreneurship classes, the hiring of the first Entrepreneur-in-Residence Kate Ryan Reiling ’00, the MacNest program and the Live It Fund — social entrepreneurship has become an essential part of Macathon and Funkathon. Macathon isn’t about simply “creating something cool,” but rather about presenting a solution to a problem that can be implemented in the “real world.” In the past, successful teams have dealt with college accessibility, alternative learning styles and student housing availability.
Usually these solutions are presented in the form of digital technology, be it an app or a website, but some students disagree on whether or not Macathon actually requires a tech focus.
“Many students think Macathon is just about the computer science and econ people,” said Marcio Porto ’17, a member of last year’s winning team Unifi, which created a platform for college financial planning. “But really, you could win by making something like the world’s greatest backpack and giving a great presentation, which takes zero coding,” Porto continued.
Ruthie Berman ’17 was also on Unifi last year, but she disagreed with Porto on whether or not the solution requires technology. “You can have a bunch of different perspectives and majors – that definitely helps – but it’s Macathon, which says to me that it needs to have some technology aspect.”
But before even considering a solution, teams have to hone in on a problem. With the current political climate, it’s safe to assume that some Macathon teams will work toward solutions for social and political issues — maybe an app that makes it easier to contact and express your opinion to a representative, a website with a database of all upcoming protests in one’s area, or an app that only feeds you reviewed, reliable journalism.
In conjunction with Macathon is Funkathon, another 24-hour marathon daring students to create an original piece of music. “Funkathon is one of my favorite parts of the awards ceremony,” Forest Redlin ’17 said. “Especially as a Macathon competitor, it’s so nice to sit at the ceremony after your 24 hours and be serenaded by Funkathon,” Redlin said.
Funkathon, as Ryan Reiling described it, is the “creative counterpart” to Macathon. “At 2 a.m.,” she said, “there will be Macathon competitors working on problem solving, while Funkathon competitors focus on creation. It’s powerful to see the two events together.”
Peace Madimutsa ’17 was a member of Kingdom Roots, the winning Funkathon team from last year, and will be competing again this year. “My group focused last year on the struggles of students of color, and it was a dedication to Black History Month. This year, I think it could go either way. Music is a feeling-driven genre, and it would be weird to not say something political,” Madimutsa said. He mentioned that he thinks competitors might use Funkathon as a time to step back, maybe even relax, from the constant stream of political commentary. “I really don’t know what it’ll be,” he said. “But either way, I know that it’ll be epic.”
Social justice and political issues are complicated and difficult to tackle in a mere 24 hours. Although Macathon and Funkathon teams are allowed to conceptualize and brainstorm as a team before the official competition, no actual writing, designing or coding can be done.
“This competition really makes you realize how much can get done in just 24 hours,” Porto said “And how much other people can do and come up with.”
This sense of ability, of being able to take on an overwhelming problem and come up with a solution, of creating “something out of nothing,” is what Ryan Reiling defines as entrepreneurship. As a Macalester alumna, she knows the college as both a student and a professor. “Macalester is very good at identifying problems, and discussing their complexity. But entrepreneurship is that next step — it’s finding the solutions,” Ryan Reiling said.
There is debate surrounding whether or not entrepreneurship belongs in a liberal arts education. It isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when one thinks of liberal arts, but, as Ryan Reiling said, entrepreneurship is “how we make meaning and sense of these problems, which often reveals an opportunity to gain more empathy, and the difficulties of working in the real world. Finding these solutions can reveal more about the problem than just looking at the problem.” Examining an issue from all perspectives, from the side of the possible solution and the complicated problem, is no doubt an essential element of a liberal arts education.
Macathon and Funkathon applications are closed, so if you aren’t one of the 150 students already signed up, it’s too late to participate as a competitor. However, all students are welcome in Mairs Concert Hall on February 25 from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. (also known as the 24th to 26th hour) to attend presentations from the top six Macathon teams and the top four Funkathon teams.