On October 26-27, 2018, Rocky Hill School hosted the first statewide high school Hack for Social Good aimed at tackling the United Nations Global Grand Challenge: Energy. A “social good hackathon” is an event in which people use their collective talents to brainstorm and create a new solution to an existing issue. Hack the Power: Reduce | Reuse | Renew brought together students from seven schools, more than a dozen towns, and even as far away as Toronto, Canada, to consider new ways to address energy consumption and waste. Their ideas were dynamic, out-of-the-box, and creative. The following high schools were represented: Rocky Hill School, Narragansett, East Greenwich, Bishop Hendricken, The Met, Wheeler School, and Holy Trinity. The event was founded by RHS juniors Ben Pogacar and Cortlandt Meyerson.
The event launched on Friday afternoon when students had a fireside chat with Senator Sheldon Whitehouse who serves on the Committee on Environment and Public Works, Congressman Jim Langevin who sits on the Subcommittee on Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Protection, and Assistant Secretary for the Office of Cybersecurity and Communications for the Department of Homeland Security Jeanette Manfra. The panel discussed national energy policy and concerns as well as the importance of securing our power grid from cyber attacks. The teams were then greeted by Lt. Governor Dan McKee and RI Chief Cybersecurity Officer Mike Steinmetz who spoke to the importance of civic engagement. Then the teams worked on forming their ideas for the Hackathon on Saturday.
At 8:00 AM on Saturday morning, the teens began to formulate their ideas and then designed five-minute pitches to present to a panel of eight outside industry experts. A team of mentors, ranging from designers, to entrepreneurs, to scientists, were on hand to advise students and answer questions. By 5:30 the teams were ready to make their case and compete for prizes in three target areas:
• 1:1 with Senator Whitehouse to present the winning Idea
• 1:1 with industry expert Ramez Naam; investor in energy startups, author, speaker
• Internship at Power Docks and E2Sol with VIP tour of facilities
Potential to Impact the Most People
• $500 cash prize directed to the social good venture of their choice
• Invitation to join CleanTech Open in 2019
• Behind the scenes tour of the RI Resource Recovery Corporation
• Internship opportunity at a LearnLaunch startup
• All access tour of Newport Biodiesel
• 1:1 college preparatory with Rocky Hill School College Counselor
Prizes were awarded as follows:
Moonshot Idea: From Street Lights to Tree Lights
School(s): Rocky Hill School
Proposal: To reduce the electricity usage on street lights, the team came up with the idea of “tree lights”. The students proposed recoding the DNA of tree seeds with fluorescent protein so that they would produce natural light. The coding would factor in a light-sensitive regulatory element and promoter to modify levels of light and would ensure the plants were sterile so as not to invade the ecosystem. Once the technology is developed, they would also code the DNA into home plants.
Potential to Impact the Most People: ReVolta + Witt the Watt
School(s): Rocky Hill School and Wheeler School
Proposal: The team created ReVolta, and Revolta Jr. for children, an app designed to educate people about their energy usage and provide them with green energy alternatives. The team suggested partnering with companies such as National Grid and smart home technology providers to expand outreach, and designed a competitive element where communities would compete with one another to become the most energy efficient.
Best Pitch: Kelp Can Help!
School(s): Holy Trinity School (Canada), Rocky Hill School
Proposal: Team Canada and Friends sought to address global warming, plastic waste, and reliance on fossil fuels using kelp. Kelp decreases the carbon dioxide in the ocean and extracts pollution in the water. Additionally, it can be used as a more nutritional source of feed for livestock, cutting down their methane emissions by 99%. They also proposed using kelp as an alternative bioplastic, helping to save our environment with biodegradable commodities, and converting it into biofuel, a renewable energy source.
In the end, all of the teams came away with an authentic experience aimed at building upon critical competencies such as collaboration, communication, global mindedness, citizenship, research, ideation, and creativity. Judge Daniela Fairchild from the RI Office of Innovation stated, “It was an honor and a pleasure to serve as a judge at the inaugural RI HS Hackathon. Students immersed in collaborative, problem-based learning, surrounded by industry leaders and mentors is truly inspiring: a testament and example of what we hope education can be for all Rhode Island students. I look forward to seeing how this student-led hackathon grows in the coming years and how the ideas surfaced during the weekend come to fruition—and encourage more Rhode Island high schoolers and professionals to engage in these types of meaningful student-adult collaborations.”