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Students, Military, Tech Pros Team to Tackle Pandemic

Innovate AFITC is part of the Air Force Technology & Cyberpower conference, and, while it usually includes military members, this time teams will also welcome tech experts and Montgomery, Ala., students.

by Brad Harper, Montgomery Advertiser / August 21, 2020

(TNS) — Last fall, All-State baseball player and computer science whiz Jayden Sloan was prepping for his senior season at Brewbaker Technology Magnet while helping to design an app to better protect the privacy of rape victims. He worked with tech experts from the military and private industry on the app as part of an annual hackathon event.

A few months later, the pandemic hit. Everything was cut short, including his senior year.

This fall he’s a new freshman at Alabama State University, where he’s learning the basics of how to attend class and work virtually. Baseball is on the backburner. “It was a hard adjustment in certain cases, but after I understood the technology it was easier,” Sloan said.

He signed up for the hackathon again. It started with a Zoom meeting to welcome team members, then ran down a list of local problems created by the pandemic.

A medical worker described the need to share information about beds and PPE between hospitals. Another speaker talked about the challenge of organizing resources and aid to people in need, and another talked about empty hotels and restaurants. An educator described some of the problems students like Sloan have been facing.

“I think all of us are feeling it with education,” said Charisse Stokes of TechMGM, which organizes the event. “Are there better ways that we could deliver communication to teachers, to parents?  Are there better ways where we could deploy solutions?"

Stokes described how people had worked this spring to compile a local database of restaurants that were offering curbside delivery, dining at a distance, or different hours. “When COVID first hit, there were so many opportunities where we could have leveraged data if we had them in the right format. What other operational communities could have used something at this time, and could still use it?”

The event, called Innovate AFITC, is an informal kickoff to the annual Air Force Technology & Cyberpower conference, which also went virtual this year. And like AFITC, the hackathon is expanding its reach through the virtual move.

Usually teams include military members from local bases. This time, they’ve signed up from installations across the country to partner with tech experts and Montgomery-area students.

Each of the nine teams will submit a working app by Tuesday that addresses one of the problems. They’ll be judged by Air Force Chief Transformation Officer Lauren Knausenberger, Air Force Cyber Communications Officer Col. Terrence Adams and Alabama Emergency Management Agency Director Brian Hastings.

Taylor Hopper of military contractor ARRAY said his hackathon team wants to do something to help either the medical community or parents, teachers and students. Their needs are urgent, and he sees a chance to make a real difference.

“Yes, this is a fun, little local event that you can participate in, but it could spark an idea or progress into a bigger project that could help on a larger scale,” Hopper said.

©2020 the Montgomery Advertiser (Montgomery, Ala.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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