Three Haverford students, Sam Tan ‘23, Trinity Kleckner ‘24, and Wahub Ahmed ‘25, recently won the award for Best Hack for Social Good at Drexel University’s annual Philly Codefest for their product, altruiSMS. The competition brought together 216 participants—students and professionals—from all across the region to contribute ideas and skills to making practical computer programs. The theme of this year’s Philly Codefest was “AI and Societal Impact,” as the competition strives to make the world a better place through technology.
The competition began on April 4, and competitors had until April 8 at midnight to submit their completed projects. The next day, teams gathered at Drexel University to present their completed projects, learn about others, and listen to guest speakers, including the CEO of Ciright and representatives from Comcast. After judging by Drexel faculty and members of the Philadelphia technology community, winners were announced later that afternoon. The trio of current and prospective computer science majors from Haverford were awarded Best Hack for Social Good, which earned them a $1,000 prize. They were one of eight winners, each winning a different category.
Their project included a web application and SMS chat bot, nicknamed Phil, designed to notify people of shelters and welfare distribution locations, primarily intended for use by the homeless and hungry. The program was created out of a recognition that many people without homes or access to food also lack stable internet access, but have cell phones, and thus would be able to receive texts. Users can choose to receive notifications when an organization is distributing items, be it food, clothing, diapers, sanitary products, etc. It does all this without asking for personal information, only asking what items the user is looking for and their approximate location based on a nearby street intersection. Organizations are able to register their own events for inclusion in Phil, though the program may automatically pick up on events on his own.
Kleckner worked primarily on Phil itself, designing his communicative functions, location features, and notification system. Ahmed used language processing to search for distribution events to include without having anyone register their events. Tan helped both his teammates with their sections, as well as worked on the development of the website and the database. The website is the main method through which people can register their organizations and release information about their distribution events. Ultimately, however, each team member helped each other as needed, making the project a truly collaborative effort.
Having created this impressive and helpful program in the midst of a college student’s weekly workload, Tan, Kleckner, and Ahmed were exceedingly proud of their achievement. The trio met through HaverCode, the on-campus student group which explores computer science, works on coding projects together, and helps students work towards careers in technology by preparing them with practical skills.
Tan, having competed in hackathons before, was ecstatic about his win.
“While it might not be my first hackathon, it’s the first time I’m competing in it as the most senior student in the group. In some sense, it’s almost a passing-on-the-torch kind of moment since I was given a lot of guidance from Iryna Khovryak ’22 back when I was a freshman,” he said. “It’s not only great that a hackathon tradition of sorts is starting to develop at Haverford, but also amazing that we are doing really well in them! I’m really thankful to HaverCode for sharing this wonderful opportunity and facilitating the formation of teams that allowed me to work with my wonderful teammates Wahub and Trinity!”
Kleckner, who had never participated in a hackathon before, expressed similar excitement.
“I am really excited about winning! We put a lot of time and effort into this so it feels great to see all that pay off. It was really reassuring to see that the CS we learn here at Haverford can compete with that at much bigger tech schools,” she said. “This was my first hackathon so I was not so sure what to expect, and am so thankful to Sam for guiding us through the whole thing. Overall I had so much fun, learned so much, and am really proud of our product and success!”
Ahmed was similarly proud of his accomplishments and how the experience had contributed to improving his technical skills.
“I am thankful for Sam and Trinity for guiding me through this process and making our hard work pay off. Personally, I was not as ecstatic about winning as embarking on a new challenge. Working on a project, from an industry perspective, helped me refine and apply my technical skills to a deliverable,” he said. “I am most grateful for encountering problems in the frameworks I used, as this environment gives me room to explore errors thoroughly. The low pressure allowed me to take calculated risks and prepare myself for software development beyond academia.”
While they have no current plans to continue work on altruiSMS, they are hopeful that it will encourage work on issues such as accessibility and food and shelter insecurity. They even hope that their work can be a starting point for future efforts, and that people will reach out to them about their project.
“We also hope that it could serve as an inspiration for more creative solutions to tackle pertinent social issues and improve the lives of the disadvantaged in Philadelphia,” Kleckner concluded.
The trio hopes that their project and success in the competition inspire students at Haverford and other liberal arts colleges, to take up opportunities, like competing in hackathons. They hope that HaverCode will continue to help interested students connect with each other.