Hackathon Brings Students Together for Gaming Challenge

By Michael Parker

ALBANY, N.Y. (April 16, 2024) — Motivated by their passion for gaming, technology and camaraderie, students from UAlbany IEEE set out to bring a new experience to campus this year with the first “Hack-a-Damien” from April 12-14.

The event combined a traditional hackathon (a 24-hour competition in which teams compete to solve a complex computer programming problem) with a series of technical workshops, conversations with game developers, as well as displays from numerous vendors and industry partners. With a theme of “same level, different challenges,” the event welcomed more than 120 students from across New York to have fun and compete for prizes at UAlbany’s state-of-the-art ETEC facility while developing an interactive game for judges’ panel.

“The reason we chose gaming is not just for entertainment, but is because gaming expands into so many disciplines: art, finance, gameplay design, story writing and programming,” said Liam Vaitkus, a senior majoring in computer science and public policy and management at UAlbany who helped lead IEEE’s planning for the event. “It’s a great opportunity for students to come together and practice their skills, as well as learn new skills in a team environment.”

The vendor fair included the FBI, Velan Studios, IEEE (Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers), IBM, the United States Space Force, as well as UAlbany’s Graduate School and College of Nanotechnology, Science, and Engineering. Also making a special appearance was the University Police Department’s therapy dog Roxy, and her partner, Officer Kenneth Faath.

IBM also hosted a research discussion on AI, quantum computing and semiconductor development, while Rocket Science Group, Meraki Interactive, Warner Brothers Games, Wolfjaw Studios and Grimbar Interactive supported the event through judging, mentorship or workshops.

The event was held on the same weekend as the University's Accepted Student Open House, providing the occasion for future UAlbany students to see the opportunities that await them.

“The hackathon is primarily about collaboration, which is a big part of any industry,” said Ishtyaq Khan, a computer science major and chair of UAlbany’s IEEE chapter.

UAlbany Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Carol H. Kim opened the festivities, while Raymond Dorcely Jr. ’11, MA ’12, program manager for Meta’s Reality Labs delivered the keynote address.

A portrait photo of Raymond Dorcely Jr.
Raymond Dorcely Jr., '11, '12

Dorcely, who grew up in Spring Valley, N.Y., earned a bachelor’s degree in communication with a minor in business management in 2011 before completing his master’s degree in communication in 2012. While at UAlbany, he was part of the football team, the Student Association, and was an Educational Opportunity Program (EOP) student.

“These experiences not only kept me active but also allowed me to build a network of amazing people who have had a lasting impact on my life, many of whom I am still friends with today. In essence, UAlbany played a significant role in shaping me into the person I am now,” said Dorcely, as he encouraged the students at the event to recognize and take advantage of the opportunities they have while encouraging them to have the confidence to know they belong.

He cited UAlbany’s AI Plus initiative as one of the many tools at students’ disposal as they prepare for their future careers, especially in a world where artificial intelligence plays an increasingly greater role.

“Gaining a strong foundation in AI concepts and applications is not just beneficial; it's essential,” said Dorcely. “The AI Plus Initiative offers an excellent opportunity for students to do just that by providing access to cutting-edge supercomputing technologies, micro credentials, and specialized degree programs. By taking advantage of these resources, students can develop valuable skills in AI and machine learning, better positioning themselves to make meaningful contributions in their chosen fields and adapt to future advancements in this exciting and dynamic domain.”

Provost Kim added that the game development theme also complemented what UAlbany can offer to students. 

“We have exceptional programs in computer science and engineering that give students an excellent grasp on the technical aspects of game development, and we also offer a Game Design & Development minor and a Machine Learning minor," said Kim. "If you are a student interested in a high-tech field of study, UAlbany is the place.”