Story STEM

CSU Hackathons Fostering Innovation in Students

Dominique Oliver


BioHack at Cal State LA


​Student interest in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields continues to increase, and universities across the country are working diligently to motivate students as well as provide them with opportunities to exercise and develop their skills and knowledge in these areas.

As a result, more CSU campuses are now hosting hackathons, creative and engaging innovative technology competitions where students collaborate to code solutions and program ideas into reality.

Hackathons give students an opportunity to test their technical skills, network and meet potential employers. These events promote STEM education and encourage students to utilize technology to solve real life challenges. Participants brainstorm in cross-functional teams and use their collective skills to create innovative tools such as mobile apps, websites and games, or wearable technology like smart watches and smart goggles.

College students from all levels and majors are encouraged to compete. Larger campuses like San Francisco State invite community developers, engineers, scientists, technologists and students to participate in the National Day of Civic Hacking - a weekend event to solve economic challenges relevant to the city, state and nation, using publicly-released data, code and technology. Cal State LA's BioHack will give students an opportunity to come up with innovative biotech products that address issues conceived in collaboration with industry mentors and academic supporters.

A pair of brothers from Cal Poly Pomona won first place at HackHarvard, Harvard University's hackathon, for their "Polyglot" translator. Accessible via smartphone app, Polyglot translates one language to another using everyday conversation. The device won because it 'tackles classic technology…to improve or create an amazing product', according to HackHarvard judges.

"They used what they have learned in class to solve a real-world problem, and beat out teams from MIT, Harvard and Stanford. Since our students understand the learn-by-doing philosophy, most have demonstrated superior practical and problem-solving skills already used in the industry," said Yu Sun, assistant professor of Computer Science at Cal Poly Pomona.

Hackathons are one of many ways the CSU is providing relevant, hands-on learning and teaching approaches in order to engage and energize students to make a difference in their communities. The CSU offers various degrees in STEM including software engineering, biotechnology and bioinformatics, industrial and educational technology, instructional design and technology, computer technology, cybersecurity and more.

As a part of Graduation Initiative 2025, the CSU is committed to contributing to the national effort of producing more college graduates with science, technology, engineering and mathematics degrees and supporting STEM education across its 23 campuses. Learn more here.​​

Graduation Initiative