On Thursday morning, the atmosphere inside the Library of Virginia was alive with nervous energy. Tables reserved for quiet, independent reading and research morphed into collaborative, vocal spaces.
“What do we want to do?” read one easel pad. “How will we do it? What story do we want to tell?”
Libraries are the cornerstone of accessible information, and Virginia’s Datathon 2019 is an emerging venue to turn open Virginia datasets into transformative tools. A record-high 21 teams are participating in the competition’s sixth year, using new and existing spreadsheets to create 21st-century solutions on a critical topic — equity in education.
“Education is the best tool we have to empower and equip all Virginia students to reach their full potential, but we know we have more work to do to address systemic disparities that exist within our educational system,” said Gov. Ralph Northam in an August statement announcing the theme.
Over a 36-hour period, each team’s task is to use their creativity and manage their time to design and develop applications that help address key equity in education challenges. Ideas will be judged on impact, innovation and technical achievement. Are they presenting a working demo and a complete, comprehensive concept?
“It’s taking the data that the commonwealth collects, but having it be used for the public good on an issue and topic that’s important to all of us,” said Librarian of Virginia Sandra G. Treadway.
Datathon 2019 participants’ geographic homes stretched across the commonwealth, from Radford University in the west to Newport News Public Schools in the east. Competitors represented public sector agencies like the Virginia Department of Health, as well as private sector companies such as consulting firm Booz Allen Hamilton.
Four of the youngest teams were from Henrico County high schools. They brought different strengths to the table, from math and coding to writing and presentation. Three of the squads partnered with professors from Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of Education. A Henrico Schools official said the goal was not only to harness students’ interest in data analysis, but expose them to possible career paths.
Five-minute presentations will take place Friday, Oct. 4, at 3:30 p.m. at the Library of Virginia, with awards given to the top three teams. The event is open to the public and we recommend stopping by, or following on Twitter at #VADatathon2019. These participants’ ingenuity embodies the can-do attitude that advances the public good and moves Virginia forward.
— Chris Gentilviso