May 24, 2019 | 60° F

HackRU draws more than 600 students, fosters technological innovation at Rutgers

Photo by Benjamin Chelnitsky |

 For 24 hours, participants of HackRU work to collaborate and build projects, which can range anywhere from robots, social innovations, video games and more. This semester, the event was sponsored by 12 companies, including Facebook, Google Cloud and Smartcar. 

Last weekend approximately 600 students participated in HackRU, a 24-hour hackathon hosted by Major League Hacking and the Undergraduate Student Alliance of Computer Scientists (USACS), where they worked together to create and build software or hardware projects. 

Known as the largest hackathon in New Jersey and one of the oldest student-run hackathons in the nation, HackRU is an overnight event where participants spend 24 hours building their projects, which range anywhere from robots, social innovations, video games and more with the chance to win awards and prizes at the end, said Brandon Yu, the executive co-director of HackRU and a School of Arts and Sciences senior.  

This semester, HackRU was sponsored by 12 companies, including Facebook, Google Cloud, Smartcar, Linode and more. The “hackers,” or participants of HackRU, had opportunities to compete for 20 different prize categories, the prizes adding up to more than $13,000. Some of the prize categories included Best Rutgers Hack, Best Hardware Hack and Best Artificial Intelligence Hack. 

The theme for this semester was magic and fantasy, so another prize category was Best Magic-Related or Humor Hack. There was also a Best Failure to Launch Hack, as a consolation prize for those who spent the weekend building a project but failing to finish with a working product. 

One of the participants was Shrikar Patel, a School of Arts and Sciences junior. He won second place in the prize category sponsored by the pharmaceutical company Merck, titled “Best Use of Merck API.” Aside from the competition and prizes, he said he enjoyed HackRU because of the opportunities to meet new people, industry experts and mentors. 

“HackRU was a great experience and I met a lot of new people with great ideas. It’s crazy to see how much technology can do, it almost seems like it has no limits,” Patel said.

Yu said hackathons were important because they offer an environment where people and students can learn new skills, apply them, make connections, find potential job opportunities and join a community — all at once. 

Regardless of coding ability and academic interests, he said the event welcomed all students to participate. Before the actual hackathon, HackRU also offered free workshops that taught people the basics of certain skills. During HackRU, mentors were also present to help out participants.

“The greatest thing someone can come out of a hackathon with isn’t a prize, but the experience — whether it’s meeting other creative and intelligent people, building their skills and relationships with their team members or enjoying a weekend full of free food, swag and events,” Yu said. 

Heman Gandhi, the co-director of HackRU and a School of Arts and Sciences senior, said he was involved in producing the QR codes and judging tool for the event. The QR codes are beneficial because they help to provide tangible numbers on how many people get food at the event, and the judging tool allows projects to be assessed without doing the numbers by hand.

Going into the work required to organize HackRU, Gandhi said there was a team of 80 people that was heavily involved in planning. 

"Some anecdotes from just this semester include the fact that we rewrote our mobile app in three weeks — each day of which would have included hours on top of classes of coding work for the pair of developers who undertook this," he said. "Before this, over Christmas, a separate team of three rewrote the website — another large sacrifice of free time."

Harshil Parekh, a School of Engineering junior, has experience attending hackathons but said he always looks forward to the environment fostered by the people who competed in the events. 

“Everyone there is either working on one of the challenges, a personal project or just doing their homework and taking breaks throughout by participating in one of the mini events or indulging in the endless supply of snacks,” he said.

Samarth Thakker

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