Cal Poly women explore virtual reality and entrepreneurism at hack-a-thon

Female Hackathon teamFrom left, Georgie de Mattos, Michelle Logan, Celina Oseguera, Adjunct Professor Patti Piburn, Melissa Nunez, Emma Kuchera and Kayla Missman at USC for Hack the Gender Gap in October 2015.

By Shelly Cone, journalism senior

The convergence of journalism and technology was on the minds of dozens of forward-thinking students, including a handful of Cal Poly journalism students, during the Hack the Gender Gap women’s hack-a-thon Oct. 9-11 at USC’s Wallis Annenberg Hall in Los Angeles. 

The event, presented by MediaShift and the USC Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication, was designed to interest women in both the technological and business aspects of journalism. More so, it was an opportunity for several bright, enterprising women to connect and learn from one another.

Mark Glaser, executive editor and publisher of, the online magazine that organized the event, said it was a huge success because organizers were able to bring together more than 60 female students from 20 schools around the country.

“The students, faculty and pros who attended all enjoyed getting to know each other, creating projects in a compressed timeframe, and having the program hosted by USC Annenberg. The Friday panel was a great discussion on the challenges women face working in tech and media,” Glaser wrote in an email.

Journalism instructor Patti Piburn, along with six Cal Poly journalism students, attended the event to learn from exciting speakers and connect with other high-caliber students, Piburn said. “It was a cool thing that they were able to meet people, make connections and take part in that experience.”

Their participation was funded by Cal Poly’s Center for Innovation and Entrepreneurship, through the Faculty Fellows program.

Cal Poly student Celina Oseguera said she was excited about the opportunity to network and discuss the future of technology and its application to journalism.

“The whole idea of virtual reality and that all these intelligent women would be there in one place was so exciting,” she said.

What she didn’t expect was just how the students would learn during the event. The students were divided into groups and tasked with creating startups around immersive journalism and virtual reality. They needed to incorporate business plans, marketing campaigns, and everything else that goes into taking something from an idea to business. “It was very eye opening. It taught us a lot about what we have to work on,” she said. 

Cal Poly senior Kayla Missman’s team took first place for their presentation of a media company that uses virtual reality for environmental issues. Missman said using virtual reality to report on environmental issues just seems to make sense.

“It’s hard to feel passionate about an environmental issue if you can’t experience it,” Missman said.

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