What happens when you put the area’s brightest programmers, health officials, app developers and artists in a room together for three days and task them with finding solutions to a single public health problem?
That’s the premise for the Public Health Renegades Hackathon, a new event Bakersfield College’s Public Health Science program is rolling out next month that invites students and professionals to collaborate.
Students know about the problems facing Kern County, but the hackathon challenges students to find solutions to those challenges “to make the community better, rather than leave,” said Alyssa Haas, founder of Kern Innovations Technology Community, a think tank collaborative partnering in the event.
Past hackathons sponsored by KIT have produced prototypes of wildfire prevention apps that identify dry brush and a virtual reality app that provides information about featured masterpiece artwork.
Not all of the concepts result in functioning software at the end of a three-day hackathon, Haas said, but there’s always the opportunity for an angel investor to swoop in and provide funding to see the projects to completion.
Although BC hasn’t settled on a topic for the hackathon yet, Sarah Baron, a professor of public health, said she’s dreaming of an app that could address the rising rates of sexually transmitted diseases throughout Kern County.
The region has some of the highest STD rates statewide, and Public Health officials warned in December that the thresholds last year are cause for crisis.
Developing a Siri-like app with Kern County data about STD rates, such as where to find clinics, free condoms and answers to questions about sexually transmitted diseases, could help, Baron said.
“Lots of young adults don’t feel comfortable asking specific medical questions,” Baron said.
Where do you find a place to get tested? Is syphilis contagious? Where can you find a Plan B pill? A puzzled user could ask, and the app would answer, Baron said.
“It all depends on the talents of developers,” Haas said.
Although the focus of the hackathon is to produce solutions for community problems, there are other benefits, Haas said. She knows of at least two developers who have received job offers through hackathons she’s been involved in.
“It isn’t all for developers, though. We need to make sure the teams are well spread,” Baron said, expressing a need for graphic artists, public health experts and computer gurus.
“We want people to come out and be part of something innovative,” Baron said.