For tech design enthusiasts in the Tri-College Consortium, the Philadelphia Marathon wasn’t the only endurance event that took place in November.
From Nov. 10 to 11, Haverford was the site of the Tri-Co Hackathon, a college hub competition that sees international participation every year. The event, which has been held annually since 2014, was hosted by the Tri-Co Digital Scholarship Team and sponsored by the Haverford Innovations Program.
In their typical format, hackathons encourage groups of collaborators to design and code the best software project possible — on an intense time crunch. By the end of the event, teams are encouraged to have a prototype ready to present to a panel of judges. The Tri-Co Hackathon, which follows that framework, kicked off at 5:30 p.m. on Nov. 10 and concluded with final judging (and a subsequent celebratory dinner) the following evening.
As student participants arrived at Haverford’s Lutnick Library on Friday evening, they were given the opportunity to engage in a group discussion on tech solutions to themes such as environmentalism and “improving student life at the Tri-Co.” After chatting and forming teams of 2 to 5 students with similar design interests, they started work around 9 p.m. to bring a fully-coded idea to life, with mentors and a helpline on standby to provide support.
By 4 p.m. Saturday, the hackathon teams were presenting their finished projects to a panel of judges composed of Bi-Co alums, including Minolta Ndlovu BMC ’22, a product manager at Microsoft, and Doug Pickard ’07, a machine learning and personalization product manager for Disney+ and Hulu. Criteria for judging included components such as creativity, utility, and technical complexity.
Final projects spanned an array of topices and included ideas like Tri-CoRe, a means of simplifying Tri-Co students’ course search and providing easier access to course-related research opportunities, as well as zRadiology, software designed to review MRI scans and reduce errors in brain tumor diagnoses.
But the winning design was presented by Cecilia Zhang BMC ’25 and Teri Ke BMC ’24, whose project, AskOwl, is a chatbot that streamlines the process of parsing a college website for one specific resource: the Blue Bus schedule.
This was Zhang’s first hackathon, and she mentioned that the time crunch was the most challenging part of the event, having never coded on a time constraint outside of computer science exams. Zhang and Ke took a divide-and-conquer approach and spent the final hours of the hack stitching together the front and back ends of the AskOwl interface.
The duo made a point to integrate unique features into their ChatBot. “We added text-to-speech API to promote accessibility. When the judges asked us about how we differentiate from the previous team, we highlighted our accessibility components,” Zhang says. “We also mentioned adding ChatGPT API to recognize user’s requests so that users do not need to go through the whole process [every time]. I believe these details made us stand out during the pitching session.”
“Witnessing participants passionately working around the clock to develop solutions to real-world challenges I think is a testament to the incredible talent and dedication within our student body,” Ahmed Haj Ahmed ’26, one of the event’s organizers, says of the overall success and special nature of the event.
Ahmed adds that the event helps to build a diverse range of expertise. “The Hackathon not only provides a platform for showcasing technical skills but also emphasizes the importance of teamwork, critical thinking, and quick problem-solving — skills that are invaluable in today’s rapidly evolving tech landscape.”