San Joaquin County students will come together next week to “hack” California’s drought — and spread the word.

Teams of middle school, high school and college students will participate in the county’s Sixth Annual H2O Hackathon on Nov. 5. It will be the first time the event will see competitors face off in person since the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hackathon, which is put on through a partnership between the San Joaquin County of Education and iHub San Joaquin, as well community support from myriad local organizations, tasks students with finding solutions to the state’s water issues using creativity and technology, SJCOE spokesperson Zack Johnson said. This will also be the first year students can participate in a separate, but related, multimedia campaign competition.

“It’s not always the drought, but it is always a water-related issue,” Johnson said of the event’s current and previous themes. “Last year, it was algal blooms. It’s been dams and things like that before.” 

But Johnson said this year’s topic — California’s ongoing drought — is one of the most pressing water issues facing the state.

California is heading into its fourth year of drought as the state comes off one of its driest rain seasons on record. 

“Dry years are what we’re looking at, you know, prolonged drought,” Johnson said of this year’s hackathon. Though the exact challenge students will focus on won’t be revealed until the morning of the day-long competition, he said.

For the technology portion of the hackathon, students will use coding to create a mobile app prototype aimed at helping to solve a specific drought-related problem, according to the event’s guidelines and procedures. The new multimedia campaign category of the competition will have students create a 30-second “viral” video and a digital infographic, meme or poster including a “catchy slogan.”

Teams made up of four students and one coach will compete in three divisions — middle school, high school and college — and present their app concept or multimedia campaign to a panel of judges made up of both technology and water industry experts, according to the SJ County Office of Education.

Those without coding experience also shouldn’t shy away from competing, Johnson says. A downloadable training kit is available on the Office of Education’s website and instruction will also be available the day of the hackathon.

“So students do not need to have a background in coding to do this,” Johnson said. “They can get up there and … use their creativity and insight to bring new solutions to this problem and build an app to try to do it.”

Registration is still open and students can sign up online individually or as a team, Johnson said. Students who sign by themselves will be placed on a team. To participate, the hackathon’s website says that all students must be from San Joaquin County and all college students must either attend San Joaquin Delta College University of the Pacific or CodeStack Academy. 

Students are eligible to win cash prizes for their creations. The CalWater Golden Spigot is the top prize in each division, which Johnson says comes with $5,000. Those who compete will also receive a “swag bag” and graduating seniors will have access to job internships opportunities that help with college and career development. 

The competition teaches more than just coding or multimedia skills, Johnson says. They have to collaborate with each other, be creative in their work and with their ideas and then explain those ideas to others.

“It has the dual purpose of also not only being able to educate students, but get them involved,” he said. 

To register for the H20 Hackathon go to

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