Students compete in annual SparkSC makeathon event

SparkSC hosted its second annual women’s makeathon this weekend where students competed in groups and learned about the product design process. (Photo courtesy of Jules Nash)

SparkSC hosted USC’s second all-women makeathon this weekend at The Reef in Downtown Los Angeles. During the two days of “Break to Make,” students competed in groups  to enhance their knowledge in hardware technology.

“Even though it sounds really technical, the weekend is more about being hands-on and making an idea come to life,” event co-coordinator Mimi Tran Zambetti said.

While the first makeathon was held at Wallis Annenberg Hall, Tran Zambetti wanted to experiment with the location to make the event more like a retreat away from USC. To ensure that transportation was not a barrier to attendance, SparkSC partnered with Lyft to give participants free rides.

The weekend consisted of learning about the product design process or “ideation,” prototyping with Arduino, an open-source computer hardware, and pitching projects to a panel of judges from venture funds. Teams of three or four came up with solutions for two issues: reducing food waste and improving educational engagement. The teams also had the option of an “open design,” where they identified a problem in their community and prototyped a solution.

Holly Huber, a senior majoring in biomedical engineering, and Kristie Leung, a junior majoring in biomedical engineering, worked to tackle the challenge of food waste by focusing on farmer-produced waste.

Their team found that 60 percent of produce is thrown away because of its “ugliness,” and were inspired by a cultural tradition of growing square watermelons in Japan. In addition to reducing waste, their product featured an acrylic coating protection from bugs and an ability to save fuel by shipping greater volumes more efficiently.

Leung said the hardest part of the procedure was settling on an idea and coming up with designs for the box.

“It sounds like a simple task, but [the hardest part was] trying to figure out the best way to make the box and make it sturdy, adjustable and thinking creatively in a way that’s applicable,” Leung said.

Lena Tavitian, who also helped coordinate the event, emphasized that all female-identifying students were welcome to participate in the event. Tran Zambetti’s idea to organize “Break To Make” in such way stems from her personal experience building robots at an all-girls high school. Once Tran Zambetti came to USC, she realized the entrepreneurial community was predominantly male. Tran Zambetti decided to pursue this makeathon to break down gender stereotypes in the STEM field and to introduce maker culture to budding female engineers.

“It’s been a really fantastic experience,” Huber said. “I think ‘Break to Make’ is unique among these sorts of design competitions, and it’s a very collaborative environment. I felt like it was less of it being a competition, and more of an opportunity for people to work in a very collaborative, innovative space.”