AthenaHacks strives to empower women in STEM

The basement of Leavey Library has transformed from a silent study bubble to a bustling hub of pink shirts, sleeping bags and young women furiously typing away on laptops. It’s the second day of AthenaHacks, an all-female hackathon providing an array of workshops, panels, tech talks and free food. 

The AthenaHacks founders created the all-female event to eliminate pressures associated with hackathons that are traditionally dominated by and oriented toward male programmers. Yuwei Xi | Daily Trojan

Ilona Bodnar, a junior majoring in media arts and practice, is one of the co-founders of AthenaHacks and is part of the event’s finance team. She and the other women who founded this hackathon wanted to eliminate the pressure and intensity that come from these typically male-dominated events.

“Coding is sort of like the new literacy, like we need to know how to read and write,” Bodnar said. “And in this day and age, we really feel that if you want to make a big impact, you need to know at least a little bit of how computers work.”

With more than fifteen sponsors this year, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft, AthenaHacks was able to provide transportation for participants from universities across Southern California. Zynga, a social game developer based in San Francisco, sponsored AthenaHacks and hosted a Unity Workshop and a Women in Games Panel this weekend.

“I was so amazed by the organization, by the AthenaHacks team and just by all the excitement and energy that the female hackers have here,” said Emily Kuo, the university relations program manager for Zynga. She said that recruiting more women has been a goal for the company.

“Most of our players [at Zynga] are female,” Kuo said. “So it just makes sense to be in a space where our hackers or our engineers in tech are female as well.”

A group of three students from UC San Diego — juniors Samantha Stone, Yasmine Nassar and Sarah Ji — came to the hackathon with the initial plan of creating an Android app, but were inspired to change their app idea into a website after attending one of the hackathon’s web development workshops, where they learned HTML and CSS.

Ji said she was excited about being in an all-female environment.

“I just think the environment is really cool and the idea of having an all-female hackathon because as previously mentioned, it is a male-dominated field,” Ji said.  “So it’s really cool to focus on women in tech and highlight that.”

Correction: A previous version of this article misspelled Ilona Bodnar’s name. The Daily Trojan regrets this error.