Contributed by PDS Computer Science teacher Theo Brasoveanu.
PantherHack 2021 made history as the first student-led coding competition and learning event hosted at Princeton Day School. Exceeding expectations, about 130 participants from around NJ attended the virtual hackathon weekend, including several dozen PDS US and MS students currently taking computer science or other STEAM classes.
PantherHack allowed our students to learn from and inspire each other as they worked on projects meaningful to them. While most chose to join teams to tackle specific problems they set out to solve, several students prepared lessons or mini-workshops to teach elements of computer programming to their peers. Our Computer Club coached these students in the weeks prior to PantherHack to carefully define their lesson topics and successfully deliver their presentations.
Another highly successful component of the hackathon were the workshops and panels featuring PDS alumni pursuing careers in technology. Participants were fortunate to have an incredible group of alumni to coach and interact with them. Dan Shipper '10 and Nathan Windsor '02 offered two workshops on entrepreneurship and blockchain, respectively.
An interactive Alumni Panel on Careers in Tech featured Lynch Hunt '85, Jeremy Kuris '91, Nathan Windsor '02, Matt Tarduogno '04, Chris Gibson '10, Sarah Bonakdar '14, Eric Sherman '18, Cole Wolk '18, Morgan McNulty '19.
Students were fascinated to hear the alumni’s perspectives on career opportunities, advice on how to grow intellectually and enhance one’s exposure to and experience with coding and technology. Most of all, they were inspired to dream big and gain confidence in their potential, skills and ability to change the world for the better.
The students’ efforts to plan and execute this elaborate series of events took place over the course of the academic year, starting in September with drafting a hackathon proposal to the school’s administration, reaching out to sponsors and participant schools and coming up with a full schedule of activities. In so doing they further developed key communication, collaboration and leadership skills that will serve them well into the future.
Computer Science Club hackathon organizer Samay Nandwana '22 shared, "This was our first time planning an event of this scope, so we were not sure if we would be able to pull it off. We separated the Computer Science club into three teams, Outreach, Finance, and Tech & Design, with a lead organizer heading each team. The four lead organizers also worked on the logistics of the event. We were very happy with the turnout and the success of each team in doing their part for the hackathon!
"The student-run workshops were a highlight of the event since they gave our club members the opportunity to make presentations on a variety of engaging topics. Additionally, the game sessions at the end of the day were nice since they allowed the attendees to take a break from their projects and have some fun. We are also very grateful for the generosity of our sponsors for supporting this event and allowing us to have a wide variety of prizes," he continued.
Co-organizer Arshaan Sayed '23 concurred that the PantherHack "was a huge success. The workshops were taught very well and the Alumni offered a ton of insight at their workshops and panels. The planning groups all more than succeeded in their tasks. For example, the Finance team was in charge of getting sponsors, managing our budget, and choosing prizes and categories. We managed to raise over $15,000, and featured Fitbits, Echo Dots, and Bluetooth speakers for the top three prizes. Each member of the best beginner hack team also received $1,000 in Bubble credits and coupons. The Tech team had the job of making our website, which covered everything you needed to know about PantherHack. And the Outreach team was in charge of getting people to register through outreach to schools, students, the PDS community and Alumni.
"The alumni sessions were, in my opinion, the highlights of the hackathon. We learned a lot about the entrepreneurship world from Dan Shipper, and the workings of blockchain and cryptocurrency with the help of Nathan Windsor. The Alumni Panel told us about their experiences and advised us on how we could be most successful in our careers. I enjoyed how the panel was not a lecture, but more of a conversation," he added.
"Another favorite part was the game tournaments. Everyone had a good time playing with each other after taking a break from their coding project. The Among Us tournament was a blast. Nothing is better than getting together with a group of fellow hackers and playing some games," he concluded.
Co-organizer Jai Kasera '23 noted, "PantherHack ran much more smoothly than we envisioned. With increased outreach during the last couple weeks before the weekend, the number of signups surged. The alumni guest-hosted sessions were incredibly useful, engaging, and unique. Attendees were able to ask insightful questions and learn more about the future ahead of them. Finally, the productive interactions between the participants was my favorite highlight of PantherHack. Whether it was on our Discord server, during the team-finding workshop, or during the game tournaments, participants were able to connect with each other and foster special relationships with fellow computer science students."
Co-organizer and CS club President Aaliyah Sayed '21 reflected, "This is my final year with the Computer Science club, and Pantherhack is the most incredible thing we’ve ever done together. I’m so proud of our club members for their dedication over the past few months, and I’m amazed at how much CS club has grown during my time in the upper school. My favorite part of the event was seeing everyone come together, crack jokes, and talk about technology. Both on Discord and on Zoom, I saw people connecting over tech-related things and becoming friends, and it amazed me that PDS enabled these friendships to form. I believe that establishing a sense of community is one of the most powerful things you can do for others, and I know that PantherHack will continue to serve as a high school technology hub for years to come."
The PantherHack team is grateful to the following PDS students, faculty and staff for their help and support for the event:
Lead Organizers: Jai Kasera ‘23, Samay Nandwana ’22, Aaliyah Sayed ’21, Arshaan Sayed ’23
Outreach Team: Ronin Bae ’24, Akash Bhowmick ‘23, Mehak Dhaliwal ‘22, Ian Nagelberg ‘24, Jinu Ryu ‘23
Finance Team: Navaneeth Rajan ’23, Grant Wells ’22
Tech & Design: Shivani Manikandan ’24, Winston Ni ’23
Project Judges: Theodor Brasoveanu, Toni Dunlap, Bryan Mayer, Jon Ostendorf, Christopher Devlin, Nathan Windsor '02, Cole Wolk '18
PDS Administration: Christian Rhodes, Renee Price, Elizabeth Monroe, Chandra Smith, Kaylie Keesling
PDS Communications Team: Melanie Shaw, James Will, Andrew Lee
Parent Chaperones: Ms. Stacey Bialow, Mr. Anupam Nandwana, Ms. Farhat Siddiqui, Ms. Neera Dhaliwal, Mr. Hong Ni
Photo: PantherHack lead student organizers Jai Kasera (top left), Arshaan Sayed (mid-left), Aaliyah Sayed (mid-right) and Samay Nandwana (bottom) with Computer Science teacher Theo Brasoveanu (top right)