Published: Feb. 1, 2022

Three views of T9Hacks participants

At just 8 years old, Casey Hunt taught herself some basic web skills so she could help her father develop a website for his small business. As an adult, she developed software and managed data for a pharmaceutical company. But despite those experiences, she lacked confidence about her coding abilities, she said.

A turning point came when Hunt’s team won the 2020 T9Hacks, a hackathon at CU Boulder’s ATLAS Institute aimed at promoting interest in creative technologies, coding, design and making among college women, nonbinary individuals and other groups that are underrepresented in technical fields. This year, the seventh annual “invention marathon” happens Feb. 18-19 at the ATLAS Institute

“I was undervaluing my skills because I didn’t know where I fell in the coding spectrum,” said Hunt, a Creative Technology and Design PhD student who builds web applications in the ATLAS THING Lab. “After winning T9, I was willing to take on more code-based projects;  before T9 I would not have had the confidence to say to my advisor that coding was part of my skill set.”

At the 2020 event, Hunt and her team worked through the night to develop “Brain Break,'' an award-winning project that periodically encourages those using Google Chrome to take breaks from the Internet by switching to healthy exercises or brain games. 

If you go

Who: Open to current college students and recent college graduates. Participants need not be CU Boulder students or graduates to attend.

What: Seventh annual T9Hacks, a hackathon designed for women and traditionally underrepresented students, but open to everyone.  

When: Feb. 18, 4:30 p.m. – Feb. 19, 9 p.m.  

Where: University of Colorado Boulder, Roser ATLAS Center, 1125 18th St.   
Cost: Free


Also, in an effort to have a greener event, organizers ask that participants bring a reusable water bottle

Additional ways to participate:

  • Sign up to become a mentor and advise participants with their projects or teach workshops.
  • Sign up to volunteer before or during the event and be part of an extraordinary team of students.       

More information          

Today Hunt collaborates with University of Washington’s Kids Team to build applications for children to play with toy robots together over the Internet. Her PhD research also involves designing cozy, privacy-conscious, smart environments through a variety of techniques, including e-textiles, long-range RFID (radio frequency identification) and swarm robotics.  

In-person event
One of the last in-person events to take place before the lockdown, the 2020 T9Hacks was Hunt’s first hackathon. After last year’s virtual event, she’s looking forward to participating again in person when T9Hacks kicks off this year on February 18 at 4:30 p.m. Participants will be required to follow CU Boulder's COVID-19 health policy
Beyond coding
Student organizers emphasize that no coding or other technical skills are required to participate in the 24-hour invention marathon and that everyone is welcome. The 2022 theme is “Go Beyond.” 

“As students with busy schedules, we often don’t take the time to explore,” says Océane Andréis, a second-year ATLAS graduate student (CTD-Social Impact), who along with Neha Kunapuli, a senior majoring in computer science, are again co-organizing this year’s event. “At T9, participants will go beyond the day-to-day grind. They will be intellectually challenged. They will learn new skills and will be supported by mentors.”

In 2016, T9Hacks was created to be a safe and welcoming environment for women and traditionally underrepresented students to learn, share and play with code.  “T9” refers to “Title IX,” an amendment to the Civil Rights Act prohibiting gender-based discrimination in education. At T9Hacks 2021, 66 hackers participated virtually; 74 percent were women and non-binary and 44 percent were first-time hackers. Previous in-person events brought in as many as 120 participants.

This year T9Hacks features four tracks: climate change, accessibility, empathy and education. 

The organizers encourage participants to meet new people, including event sponsors and mentors. New sponsors this year include CU Boulder’s Mission Zero Fund, Cardinal Peak, Earnifi and Verily as well as T9 sponsor veterans Twitter, Tortuga AgTech and Wunderman Thompson. Aileen Pierce, teaching associate professor, is the faculty advisor. 

While attending the 2020 T9Hacks, Hunt met many sponsors, mentors and participants, and three of Hunt’s team members became part of her “pandemic bubble.”

“Having a community of women to study with throughout the pandemic contributed greatly to my academic success,” she said.


New! Climate Change Track with Mission Zero

This year T9Hack’s Climate Change track is being sponsored by the Mission Zero Fund, a donor-supported initiative to help CU Boulder students work on climate solutions. The Mission Zero Fund works with many groups across campus on projects exploring carbon-zero living and sustainability.

“Students are the route to dealing with climate change, the ones who can make an impact on businesses and find solutions to this existential crisis,” says Scott King, founder of Mission Zero.

King says that Mission Zero Fund’s partnership with T9Hacks fits well because T9 not only offers an opportunity to mentor students around climate change, but it also supports an underserved population.

“An important part of the impacts of climate change is the inequities around climate justice,” King says. “Those without resources are impacted more significantly by climate and weather extremes and have less resources to deal with these events.”

Overall, all T9 participants are welcome to join the Climate Change track. Solutions can range from engineering to communications projects and anything in between, depending on the students’ strengths and passions.

“I don’t want students to feel like they are alone in this crisis,” King says. “There are mentors and business people who care deeply. Don’t look at climate change in a dark space. Together we can define what the future looks like.”