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ACT Student and Team Win the 2020 MIT Policy Hackathon “Internet Policy Challenge”

ACT Student and Team Win the 2020 MIT Policy Hackathon “Internet Policy Challenge”
Daniel Kalemi, ACT Class of 2021 (photo by Kutu Hall)

We are proud to announce that ACT’s Daniel Kalemi, a senior Computer Science student from Albania, and his 5 member team the “Semi-Atlantic Kelproots Get-Together” (SAKGT) took first place in the Internet Policy challenge during the October 23-25, 2020 MIT Policy Hackathon!

The weekend-long event gathered over 150 high-caliber participants from 22 US states and 33 countries, competing in five different categories. The “Semi-Atlantic Kelproots Get-Together” team, made up of members Daniel Kalemi (ACT, Greece), Helen Landwehr (MIT, USA), Moe Sunami (Pomona College, USA), who was in Japan at the time of the event, Giovana Carneiro (Rio de Janeiro State University, Brazil) and Kevin Paeth (MIT, USA), focused on the Internet Policy Challenge, which was sponsored by the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security (SCSS). Kalemi’s team had 40 hours to collaborate and coordinate across four continents and 14 hours of time difference.

The team chose to participate in the Internet Policy hackathon challenge, which revolved around the thematic track of Internet Shutdowns as a Global common threat, touching upon issues of Internet accessibility and censorship. Using Ooni data (open-source network disruption tool) and other supplemental data sets, team SAKGT drafted a policy brief on how the US can pioneer better data collection techniques and practices to inform policy on Internet Governance. After two rounds of pitches and the submission of the five-page policy memo, Kalemi’s five-member team was announced the winner of the Internet Policy challenge.

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What is the MIT Hackathon?

MIT Policy Hackathon is an annual three-day hackathon organized by Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s (MIT) Institute for Data, Systems, and Society (IDSS) alongside MIT’s Technology and Policy Program that aims to address relevant societal challenges via data and policy analysis. MIT is the top-ranked university in the US and is well known for research, and their programs in engineering and physical sciences. This annual hackathon allows participants to work in teams to develop creative policy solutions to problems posed by governmental and industry partners. Historically, hackathon participants have come from a wide range of backgrounds, from data science to engineering to public policy, and challenges have covered a diverse array of topics. Each year, participants are given interdisciplinary challenges on issues like climate change, energy, health, cybersecurity, AI, and the future of work. These challenges are based around real data from MIT partners in government, academia, and industry.

For the 2020 competition, MIT Policy Hackathon held challenges in 5 categories:

  1. Internet Policy - sponsored by the Atlantic Council.
  2. COVID19 - sponsored by the UCLA School of Law COVID-19 Behind Bars Data Project.
  3. Environmental Justice - sponsored by the Global Center for Climate Justice.
  4. Transportation - sponsored by the Southern California Association of Governments (SCAG).
  5. Planning (Future of Work) - sponsored by the Puget Sound Regional Council (PSRC), Washington.

The Internet Policy Challenge was sponsored by the Atlantic Council’s Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security (SCSS). SCSS works to develop sustainable, nonpartisan strategies to address the most important security challenges facing the US and the world with its mission of “shaping the global future together.”

The Hackathon Journey

After an initial online selection phase, ACT’s Daniel Kalemi was invited to participate in the 3-day event. During the week leading up to the hackathon, all selected participants introduced themselves on Slack and reached out to one another in order to form teams. On the first day of the event, MIT presented the teams with the 5 challenges and assigned each team to review the challenges and submit their top 3 choices.

Kalemi’s team unanimously opted for the Internet Policy challenge and thought of a fun and creative way to get the attention of the organizers. By choosing an interesting name for their team, they sent a subtle message that they were serious about the challenge and could think outside of the box. They modified the Internet Policy sponsor’s name “Atlantic Council” into “Semi-Atlantic Get-Together” and added “Kelproots” in between. Kelproots can be considered the ocean’s equivalent of grassroots, which is widely used as a term for community initiatives (Kelp don’t actually have roots, but the team chose to use it for the analogy and originality, which effectively got the attention of the judges during the pitch rounds).

The Internet Policy hackathon challenge revolved around the thematic track of Internet Shutdowns, as a Global common threat, touching upon issues of Internet accessibility and censorship. Using Ooni data (open-source network disruption tool) and other supplemental data sets, team SAKGT drafted a 5-page policy brief on how the US can pioneer better data collection techniques and practices to inform policy on Internet Governance. Despite the pressure of working within 40 hours and having to coordinate among 4 different time zones, after 2 rounds of pitches and a policy memo deliverable that took place between 23-25 October 2020, Daniel’s five-member team was announced the winner of the Internet Policy challenge.

“Semi-Atlantic Kelproots Get-Together” was awarded with a cash prize of $1000 and an invitation to deepen their Internet Policy research findings and by authoring a scientific paper that will be published this summer in the "MIT Science Policy Review", which is an invite-only peer-reviewed journal by MIT.

In Kalemi’s own words

“hands down, this has been one of the most unique experiences I’ve had so far! The hackathon really challenges you to get out of your comfort zone and work around the clock with a set of different people, exploring real-world challenges from top organizations in the field. If I have to describe the hackathon in one phrase it would be “Growth through exposure”. It was a nice opportunity to get out of a classroom setup and challenge my own knowledge and skillset in the field among a competitive pool of participants that mimic the international job market, which pushes you to rise to the occasion and embrace the challenge. I would highly encourage any ACT student to consider applying to the MIT Policy Hackathon, or any other competitions, and I guarantee that not only it will boost your confidence levels, but most importantly you will have a lot of fun in the process and make new, long-lasting friendships.”

We are very happy to see our students excel and we wish Daniel all the best in his future endeavors!

For more information on the event, you can read “Data for Good”, on the MIT website.

(NOTE: The Hackathon Proceedings for this year and other related content will be published by MIT in the coming weeks).

 

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