Impact of Hackathons

Hackathon; probably you have heard this word from a friend or read it on a Facebook page. But have you ever wondered what does it mean or where does it come from? If you try to look it up in a dictionary or on an online translator you may not get a precise translation.

So, what the heck is a hackathon? Hackathon is a combination of two words: hack and marathon. Basically, these two words say it all; a hackathon is an event in which computer programmers, developers, engineers, designers, and all those who are involved in application development, gather to compete with each other in a short period of time to come up with a new idea of an application (software-related or hardware-related or both). A hackathon usually lasts for at least 24 hours up to couple of days, where teams are limited to that time to design, code, and test their application. Each team is formed from at least one participant up to a certain number specified by the event organizers. At the end, and when the time is up, each team presents their idea to the judges and to the other participants. The judges review all the ideas, discuss with each other, and choose the winner of the hackathon – prizes usually are provided.


I had not participated in a hackathon and didn’t know what it is until I came to IIT. At a tech school like IIT, the idea of hackathons is very welcomed. We have participated in many whether it was locally with our school’s mates on campus or with other schools. Two weeks ago, we won the 1st prize for best app idea in a Microsoft sponsored hackathon here at IIT’s Idea Shop. Participants were students from different universities from Illinois. We worked with two other students we met before the beginning of the hackathon. We chose an idea to work on, we made it in 24 hours, and it led us to the first place.

Our idea was a mobile app; Location-based messaging app that allows users to communicate with each other using augmented reality. User can leave a message for other users at a specific location, so they can see the message by pointing their phone’s camera to that location only if they are nearby that spot. It really feels so good that in short time we were able to come up with new idea, implement it, and making it a real app and the best part is being awarded for it!

So are hackathons about competing and winning? Definitely no. Even though there are prizes and winners, but they are just a motivation to make teams give their best during the event. In fact, the main goal behind hackathons is learning. Yes learning. Participating in a hackathon will let you learn new stuff and collaborate with others in a very short time. You will learn how to use new tools and technologies you will never be taught in school and you always wanted to know more about. In hackathons, you will experience the feeling of working with real world problems because you will work under pressure and you have to know how to manage your time. Furthermore, you will meet new people and have the chance to network with professionals from big companies. Actually, it’s a big chance to show off your work and skills in front of these people, and who knows, they may like you and ask you for a job interview.

After reading this, don’t you agree that hackathons are awesome? For me, I will do my best to participate in every hackathon I can go to and never miss the chance of learning and having the fun I will get from.


Mohamad & Tony

Computer Science Students

Encouraging students to engage nationally


         On Saturday, April 12, 2014, the IIT Undergraduate Business Council (UBC) – a student club – sponsored five IIT students to attend a conference at the University of Pennsylvania, an Ivy League school. 

The conference – “Destination MENA: Unlocking the Region’s Potentials” – was held at the Wharton School of Business. Throughout the conference, many important speakers talked to the students and visitors about investing in the Middle East and North Africa region.

The conference was attended by undergraduate students from across the US; what we shared in common was that we were all drawn from or had a dedicated interest and commitment to the MENA* region. “Destination MENA” was a great chance to meet and network with current students, and future leaders.

The conference’s panels ranged from Investment Banking, and Venture Capital, to Politics, Entrepreneurship, and Education. The speakers shared their knowledge, experience, and current business operations in the area. It is important to mention that most of the speakers had their undergraduate and graduate/professional degrees from top US schools.

The list of the speakers includes, but not limited to:

·       Joe Saddi, Senior VP and Middle East Managing Director & Strategy

·       Nassef Sawiris, CEO of OCI N.V.

·       Reem Asaad, Saud Arabian Financial Advisor

·       Dr. Freddie C. Baz, General Manager, Group CFO and Strategy Director at Bank Audi

The UBC at IIT is dedicated to expanding the business knowledge of students outside of the classroom, and to facilitating professional networking opportunities in order to enhance our career potential upon graduation. The UBC is funded by Illinois Institute of Technology, and Stuart School of Business.  Funding conference attendance at events such as “Destination MENA” also serves as a strategic opportunity to promote the IIT Stuart Business School and its students among other top US Business schools.

For instance, conferences such as “Destination MENA” create and structure the base of great future collaboration between Stuart and other schools as well among future alumni of our respective institutions.  I believe that the Stuart School has a solid undergraduate business program with high potential to grow fast and strong with increased enrollment from both the US and across the globe. We already have an internationally renown masters level Finance programs, ranked among the top nationally, and globally. Therefore, sending IIT Stuart students to other universities for these conferences and workshops provides our current undergraduates with insights and a valuable experience to learn and become inspired by their peers from across the country and leading experts and business luminaries; in gaining these skills and acquiring new ideas, we are able to return to return to Stuart and apply these lessons to our own campus. 

I have a dream to transfer such student engagement activities and related opportunities to developing countries, and especially to my country, Syria.

First, I would like to see business schools in these countries establish annual thematic and research focused conferences for undergraduate and graduate students.  Second, these conferences should highlight the collaboration of universities on a national scale, and then on a multinational and regional scale.  Third, the conferences should actively engage students – women and men – from same academic background while bringing many different universities together in order for us to learn from each other and about each other’s background and vision for the future.  Fourth, we should actively promote student leadership through the expansion of undergraduate business clubs whose aim is to support and advance the understanding of business and economic growth. Finally, it is vitally important for us to make the language of business (and cooperation) as the basis for a new language of the region.

Strong, smart, ethical, diverse, empathetic and civically minded business leaders are essential to the region’s strategic growth, and the future of peace for our region.

Toufik Simo

Stuart school of business | Expected graduation, may 2015

Tears in Heaven

For the man, who – Rest in Peace
Your crossing should be a wake up call
You didn`t see a Christian or Muslim
You saw human beings above all
You loved flowers, birds, and life
You never wanted us to sink in pain
If you should see my brothers in Heaven
Tell them their love did not go in vein

Original Lyrics : 

Would you know my name

If I saw you in heaven?

Would it be the same
If I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong
And carry on,
‘Cause I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven.
Would you hold my hand
If I saw you in heaven?
Would you help me stand
If I saw you in heaven?
I’ll find my way
Through night and day,
‘Cause I know I just can’t stay
Here in heaven.
Time can bring you down,
Time can bend your knees.
Time can break your heart,
Have you begging please, begging please.
Would you know my name
If I saw you in heaven?
I must be strong
And carry on,
‘Cause I know I don’t belong
Here in heaven.
Screen Shot 2014-04-14 at 1.21.40 PM

Eric Clapton – Tears in Heaven, Covered by Elias Yousef

The Father of Syrians did not die today

As I browse through my Facebook trying to choose my words wisely before writing this post, I can hardly find any expressions whether in Arabic or in English to describe the face that is showing literally in every post by my Syrian friends. 
Pictures of one old man with my friend as a kid; a photograph of the same old man with another friend four years ago;  one more scene reveals the old man in good physical shape with a bunch of friends in a camp, climbing the mountain, praying in the church. People were sharing his pictures because that old man died today.
He was a man that reached out and touched the heart of everyone who met him; individuals who never met him and yet saw his videos on YouTube felt the same way; as did those who heard so many of us share our stories and reflections of our time with him. He has became a symbol, a true hero that shall be remembered as we write the history of our country, and the Christian modern history, furthermore, the history of mankind.
Frans Van Der Lugt, a Dutch priest who came to Syria decades ago, learned our language and our traditions and lived with us until he became one of us. 
Over the past three years and as the conflict in Syria was rising he remained a voice of peace, calling for peaceful resolution and dialog. Though some encouraged him to return to Europe, the loyal 72 year old man decided that he would remain in the besieged old city of Homs.  
Despite the enormous threats and indescribable war zone he was experiencing, he chose to stand with those who couldn’t leave in an attempt to guard what’s left of the Christian and the Human heritage in my hometown.
“I don’t see people as Muslims or Christian, I see a human being first and foremost,” Father Frans said in February 2014.
The Rev. Frans van der Lugt in February. He had insisted on remaining in the war-ravaged Old City district of Homs, where he offered refuge to Muslim and Christian families alike.CreditMohammed Abu Hamza/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images
This morning, at the age of 75, a gunman walked into the church where father Frans had taken shelter from the shells – a place which had been sanctuary to Muslims, and Christians, where all were welcomed – and shot him dead ending the life of a true saint. 
The pain is great, but so are the values that father Frans has shared during his lifetime. He lived in peace, as a true teacher for all of us Muslims and Christians, and died in peace serving his cause of love and co-existence. His death changed him from a person to an eternal icon, and an icon never dies.
Our charge will be to honor his extraordinary life by seeing and finding the common ties that bring us together as diverse peoples, and to always stand with and for those in their time of need.
May your soul rest in peace, you shall always live in our hearts father, Frans the Syrian Saint.
الرحمة لروحك أبونا فرانس



Two of the Syrian Women at IIT share their thoughts about TEDxIIT:

“We are all looking forward to the TEDx event happening tomorrow (April 5th) at IIT. This year, we even have more reasons to be excited about this event, as our Syrian friend Raed Tawil will be there as one of the speakers. This is the first time a Syrian student from IIT gets the opportunity to speak and inspire people at such a well renowned event. In 2013, there were more than 30,000 global viewers for the live stream and we are hoping for even more viewers this year. Everyone should absolutely watch it live tomorrow Sat, April 5, 2014 9am – 5pm by using this link”


“Many of us have enjoyed watching TED talks, the online videos of scientists, artists, inventors and others talking about their work and I believe that these videos can be vehicles for genuine learning For example they enable self-directed, “just-in-time” learning because video viewers choose which talks to watch and when to watch them, they’re able to tailor their education to their own needs. Also they encourage viewers to build on what they already know.
We all are looking forward to TEDx event at IIT specially that one of the Syrians here, Raed Tawil will be there as one of the speakers.
I encourage everyone to watch it Saturday, April 5, 2014″


A link to TEDxIIT’s page:

Active Citizen Summit


Richard J. Schmierer, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State, and David A. Staples, Outreach Coordinator, from the State of Illinois visited us at IIT last Thursday to meet some of the Syrian students, and I was lucky enough to be there.
During that visit, they learned more about us and IIT’s Syrian initiative. On the other hand, they discussed with us any issues or challenges we are having here, and then explored the different available supporting resources in Illinois, like the Department of State itself, the Syrian American Council, and some others.

David told us about the Active Citizen Summit program, which is sponsored in partnership between the American Council of Young Political Leaders (ACYPL) and the United States Department of State. It is a 22-day program for 18 young leaders from across the Middle East and North Africa. And according to ACYPL’s website:1 “The project will involve young economic and social entrepreneurs and civil society leaders who will spend 16 days in Chicago, Illinois participating in trainings and internships, and 5 days in Washington, DC for follow-on project planning and reflection.”

Richard and David invited us to attend a networking event for the new cohort of the Active Citizen Summit on the same day, which took place in the 1871 building, a place for start-up companies sponsored by Google.

In that night, I had the chance to meet many enthusiastic and brilliant people from the Middle East. They all have a lot of achievements in their lives, which was the reason why they got selected out of a huge number of applicants. They weren’t clear yet about their projects, because it was their day one in the program, and they just arrived in the U.S. I also had the chance to meet some different professional people, from big companies like Boeing, who were there to support these young entrepreneurs.

As I attend more of these networking events, I realize how important and beneficial they are; not only for potential job opportunities, but more importantly as connections you have to support you in your life. In Syria, connections also play a major role in hiring and other opportunities, but unfortunately in a bad way, where relatives and close friends to governors, political leaders, and rich businessmen get those opportunities even if they don’t deserve them. However, in the future Syria, I hope these networking events will take place and change the traditional approaches.


Because education is The Key


Last week, I had participated in Jusoor Syria Consortium for Mentorship Program which is organized and attended by Syrian students who are accomplishing their degrees in different fields of study here in the United States.

The discussion focused on the difficulties that we are witnessing in our country and the adjustments to academic life in our new colleges and universities.  We shared our experiences, lessons learned and advice in order to improve the overall educational benefits among the group members. We also discussed our visions for the future and how best to reflect and to prepare for those experiences when we return to our country Syria.

I was relieved and heartened when I heard the range of different visions and thoughts, and I realized that no matter how long the war will last, one day it will come to an end and then we will have the chance to get back to our homes and families to rebuild the country.

In preparing for that day when we reunite with our families, we must also begin to think about how we can participate in the change for a brighter future through education right now.  What can we do from where we are and who are the partners and collaborators that we can join to take small and definitive steps?  What should we doing while we prepare for our return?  These are, as yet, unanswered questions but ones that we must answer as individuals and as a community of Syrian undergraduates in the diaspora.

I believe that education is the most critical and important component for us to leverage in our time for broader understanding and peace. Education has always and will always be the key to the change.

Farah Haddad ,The guest speaker in the seminar, had the chance to meet with Malala Yousafzai, the Pakistani girl that had become a profound example for access to education. Malala has joined the United Nations in calling for for education to be recognized as a human right – as a right for every individual in the world, no matter where he or she lives.

I don’t know when peace will spread in my country, but I do know that every day we have our own Syrian Malalas – unsung heroes within the country and in neighboring refugee camps who work to provide innovative initiatives to further the unrelenting desire for education within the Syrian people.

We are a country whose children and adults believe strongly in education, and they are ready to give whatever they are asked for in order to spread education and prepare the Syrian children for the future.  While the world may not know their names as well as Malala, we honor the work that women and men undertake everyday to further learning; and we all seek and must do our part – as a matter of duty and obligation – as we work toward peace and understanding for all.

Safouh Takrouri

IIT Armour College of Engineering | Expected graduation, December 2014

Safouh can be reached at


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