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My Experience at a Charrette/Hackathon

By: Candice Zhang


Prior to enrolling in post-secondary education, I’ve never really considered joining a Hackathon or any other case study contests. Sure, I did sign up for DECA in Grade 10 but let me tell you, it was one of the most terrible experiences ever. Preparing for business competitions and memorizing concepts for these huge provincial exams were just as daunting as applying to university itself.

Although other people scored well and enjoyed presenting their findings, I felt forlorn and unappreciated most of the time. Thus, I never wanted to enroll in any case study or collaboration event. I detested the superficially formal environment and the superiority complex exemplified among most students.

As soon as I enrolled in college, I wasn’t sure of what to expect in terms of extracurriculars and activities. My school isn’t known for their clubs or fraternity life; students barely join events or volunteer for the school. However, I suddenly felt the urge to be apart of an academic and social community.

After a few months of quarantine, a representative from my school’s design department contacted every student by email. She suggested us to enroll in a Charrette – a collaborative case study event centered around Design Thinking. Although I wasn’t planning to sign up at first, I decided to take the initiative. I thought that even if I don’t win or enjoy my experience, I can still network with mentors and peers to foster professional relationships.

The activity was 10 days long and took place in a remote environment. I remember feeling drowsy and fatigued on the first day. I was anxious of what would happen and the skills that will be expected of me. I was also nervous about meeting my group members as I have never completed team projects virtually. Furthermore, the competition was geared towards students with design backgrounds. Coming from a business education, I wasn’t sure if the concepts and skills I learned would suffice.

I logged into Microsoft Teams and joined the competition channel nervously. At 10 AM sharp, the event kicked off with an introduction, networking session, and a bunch of TED Talk Series. Every speaker was insightful as they offered to share their journey and work experiences in an innovative perspective. The judges also introduced themselves to the participants and spoke about their occupations.

After a long morning of TED Talks, the administration team decided to break us off into groups. Each group had their own topic to tackle in the overarching theme of education throughout COVID. My team had to solve the situation with resource management. In this case, our goal was to observe the concept of online learning and the resources for education that academic institutions provide for us.

Working as a team virtually had its ups and downs. After five days, two of my group members had already left the event, and the remaining three members had to power through the project. Every hour was filled with research, network, and presentations of new ideas for our mentors. Our final concept was to create an education certifier for mature students in order to enhance and hone their existing skills for new career pathways.

The final presentation for my team was intimidating. We weren’t exactly sure of what the judges were looking for, and we didn’t know if our work and research would suffice. However, despite our uncertainties, we ended up winning the ‘Most Creative Team’ award. The award really helped us realize that the right opportunities will eventually arrive in our hands. However, those opportunities will only present themselves depending on a person’s effort – in the long run. No one can fast-track their success and expect great events to occur. In fact, we don’t even end up discovering what we truly are capable of unless we try something outside of our comfort zones.

Additionally, I learned the importance of collaboration as a team. Group work is stressful regardless of the assignment or topic. In order to make your product a success, every team member must be thoroughly engaged in the process and offer their own input. Although people do have different work ethics, it is important to know how to function as a group and accomplish the required tasks. At the end, it’s not only a one-person job.

Overall, my Charrette experience was interesting as it helped me realize my strengths and weaknesses in certain areas. The competition was fairly different from the DECA contests in high school. Instead of being pressured and judged, I felt that I finally could thrive from my research and work experience. Throughout the contest, I want to tell college hopefuls that: If you’re feeling skeptical about joining a club in college, realize that you don’t need to reference your high school years by your choices. College you is a new you, a much different character from your high school years. In order to showcase your potential and see who you are as a person, always remember to take advantage of the resources by trying to engage yourself in many events as possible. You don’t know how far you will go. And you never know what you’ll be capable of.

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