Office of Economic Impact and Diversity

AABE Hackathon Explores the African-American Experience of Energy Issues

December 13, 2018

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The AABE energy hackathon at NYU on November 16-17 2018
The AABE energy hackathon at NYU on November 16-17 2018.  See more photos below.

Think of hackathons as concentrated bursts of intellectual energy.  Small teams work intensely together for a short time to generate solutions. The short time allowed is part of the exercise, meant to energize the brain into suggesting fresh solutions.

A Hackathon Seeking Diversity

Another well-known way to generate fresh solutions is - of course - to draw on a diverse talent pool.

The American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) works to address energy-related issues that disproportionately impact people of color and to promote diversity and inclusion among energy companies.

The AABE energy hackathon at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering on November 16 and 17, was designed to attract a high proportion of people of color, including students and professionals at different stages of their career, community members and budding entrepreneurs.

The African-American Experience of Energy Issues

The problems the teams set out to solve were also remarkable in that they focused on the African American experience of energy issues. The list of hacks teams were asked to tackle included how to make solar accessible to urban communities, how to improve access to energy efficiency programs for low-income communities, and how to eclipse barriers to entry for jobs in the energy sector.

How should we ensure diverse inputs are included?

Ensuring that diverse inputs are included in the formulation of solutions means having diverse problem-solving talent at the table. But it also means listening to diverse communities and truly understanding their needs. This is - after all - the basic meaning of “human-centered design”.

One of the teams competing in the hackathon really took that principle to heart. Their chosen topics for the following day’s work was “Improving Access to Energy Efficiency Programs for Low Income Communities” and “How to make Solar Accessible to Urban Communities”. Before the day of the hackathon, the three NYU students actually went out to a low-income housing complex and talked to the residents about their issues with energy conservation and paying energy bills. There was - they thought - no substitute for hearing it straight from the community. 

This is when you remember what you’re working for and why it’s really important. These events do make a difference.

Annie Whatley
Deputy Director, Minority Economic Impact

Annie Whatley, Deputy Director, Minority Economic Impact at the Office of Economic Impact & Diversity (ED) was embedded with that NYU student team during the hackathon. 

“I was so moved by their enthusiasm and commitment to improve energy efficiency in low income communities. They actually went out and talked to real people for their research. This is respect and inclusion. This is when you remember what you’re working for and why it’s really important. These events do make a difference.” 

Minority students interested in a 2019 summer internship with the Department of Energy and its national labs should bookmark the Minority Educational Institution Student Partnership Program (MEISPP). This coming year, MEISPP will run from June 3rd to August 9th; with applications being accepted at the beginning of 2019. The program includes lodging, round trip airfare, and student stipends.

James Campos, Director, Office of Economic Impact and Diversity spoke at the event. Also: Happy to report that the EERE office at the Department of Energy sponsored the team that went on to win first prize in the competition.