SMACK Is Back! Competition Fuels Intern Innovations

October 2018
MITRE Summer Interns
MITRE summer interns

The Mission: Find a way to improve MITRE's corporate programs, by forming teams and doing innovative research.

The Method: The Summer MITRE Hackathon, known as SMACK, which is open to all MITRE summer student interns.

The Madness: Collaborate and innovate in the space of less than 24 hours, starting on Thursday afternoon and staying up all night, ready to present a finished product to judges Friday morning at 10:45.

The student teams could sign up, do some prep work in advance, and start creating ideas and solutions before the hackathon. The event took place July 19 and 20 at both MITRE's McLean, Virginia, and Bedford, Massachusetts, campuses. The hackathon included interns who came to McLean from some satellite locations.

Participants could plan team responsibilities and activities before the session, says Tiffany Yan, one of MITRE's college recruiters. Cybersecurity engineer Gabby Raymond—in partnership with MITRE Student Programs—organized and led the event with the help of Taylor McCorkill and Stephen Jones.

Interns could choose from three projects aimed at improving MITRE programs or initiatives, or they could improvise their own challenge.

Sixty-two of MITRE's 400 student interns signed up—more than twice as many as last year's hackathon. Many chose to stay up all night working, fueled by coffee, cola, and Tex-Mex food.

In addition to getting a chance to hack, the interns received mini-workshops in skills useful in the working world, including "Presentation Crash Course—Learn How to Perfect Your Presentation."

"SMACK is in line with our internship program's goal of providing a holistic, unified experience for all interns, no matter where they sit," Yan says. "We had a great showing for the hackathon. We've been able to provide these interns with competitions, experiences, and networking opportunities during the summer."

Winning Team Uses Data Analysis to Improve Research Proposals

A panel of seven judges, five from Bedford and two from McLean, graded the teams on technical difficulty, innovation, impressiveness, and ambition. Team Null won first place for its project to help those submitting ideas to the MITRE Innovation Program (MIP)—our corporate independent research program—improve their proposals.

The team came up with the idea of a new tab for the MIP, called "Toolkit." Applicants could use the "Toolkit" tab to submit a draft of their project, says Team Null member Ashley Coursen, a student at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Florida.

Toolkit would evaluate the proposal, compare it to proposals from the past 10 years, and make recommendations on how to improve it. Toolkit employs several evaluation indexes, one of which is the occurrence of key words, Coursen says.

"We found that many of the research projects that got funded had the word 'continuation' in it," she says. A word that occurred frequently in proposals that didn't win funding was IoT, for the Internet of Things.

"There were a lot of additional functionalities we would have liked to include, but we didn't have time," Coursen says. Her team has been talking with staff about outlining additional steps to help make a Toolkit tab a reality for future idea submissions.

Girl Code Wants to Make Women Safer

Girl Code, an all-female team, took second place. Their app allows women who are out for the evening to stay in touch with each other and take additional measures to ensure each one is safe.

"If women are out in a group of friends, and they want to make sure that everyone's safe, we can all check in through the app," says team member Sheena Beck, a Penn State student. If someone goes outside a certain designated radius, the group receives a notification. The app also allows anyone in the group to notify other members if she feels unsafe.

She adds, "there are other potential applications, such as child safety and general sexual harassment as well as some military uses."

Cameron Morris, a University of Connecticut student, was part of a team called Vim Is Better Than Emacs. Their project helped improve the efficiency of a MITRE-developed facial recognition software.

The chance to bond with other interns, stay up all night, and look for new ways to address existing problems "was both fun and challenging," Morris says.

Raymond agrees. "Innovation is the cornerstone of MITRE culture. We started hosting intern hackathons several years ago with the goal of providing interns with an opportunity to innovate in the same manor we encourage our full-time staff to innovate. Not only do they provide students with a networking event where they can show their creativity, the hackathons have also evolved to highlight the needs of our sponsors and MITRE’s goal of creating a safer world."

—by Tom Nutile

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