Local high-schoolers learn how to hackathon
Some teenagers spend their weekend mornings sleeping in or watching television. But by 9 a.m. this past Saturday, a group of 35 sophomores from Baltimore City Public Schools were already settling into a room in the Armstrong Building on the Johns Hopkins East Baltimore campus, ready to develop ideas for technologies that would help solve problems faced by the medical community.
The students were there for Mini-MedHacks, a one-day, five-hour medical hackathon hosted by the Johns Hopkins University student organization MedHacks. The event was presented along with Merit Health Leadership Academy, an organization aimed at empowering high school students from underrepresented groups to become leaders in the health care fields.
“All the kids in Merit are in the program because they’re interested in medicine, but what they probably don’t know is that the future of medicine and what is current in the field is constantly changing due to innovation,” said Emily Burnette, a Johns Hopkins junior biomedical engineering and economics double major and member of MedHacks. “Recently, there has been a big boom of innovation in this industry, so teaching them about that innovation, what it means, and how exciting all these new changes are will help them understand a different side of medicine.”
The day began with an informational panel session featuring four experts from the medical field: Damini Agarwal, a biomedical engineer from Infinite Biomedical Technologies who received her master’s from Johns Hopkins in 2017; Robin Yang, an associate professor in the Department of Plastic Surgery in the Division of Pediatric Plastic Surgery; Sarah Korth, director of Kennedy Krieger Institute’s Limb Differences Clinic; and Dolores Njoku, program director for pediatric anesthesiology at Johns Hopkins Medicine. They described issues and challenges in their fields, such as how to deliver medical care to underprivileged people who do not live near hospitals or how those suffering from facial deformities experience issues of self-esteem.
The high school students would later discuss those issues and brainstorm possible new technologies to solve them. But first, they took part in two practical workshops. The first, headed by Johns Hopkins students from the Health and Medical Device Network, was a hands-on activity focused on how to operate an Arduino circuit board, and the second was led by members of several design teams from Hopkins’ Department of Biomedical Engineering, who walked the students through the nine-step engineering process they use when designing a technology.
The workshops were the most exciting part of the day for Shantika Bhat, a Baltimore Polytechnic Institute student.
“It was a lot of fun going through the engineering design process because it’s beneficial for everyone and such a universal concept,” said Bhat. “No matter what I end up wanting to do professionally, learning useful processes like that will help me succeed.”