MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – NASA teamed up with West Virginia University to broaden their outreach to underrepresented communities and to generate fresh ideas during “HackWeek.”

Students from West Virginia, New Jersey, Delaware and Virginia gathered on WVU’s campus to solve problems for NASA. The week-long program is a part of NASA’s initiative to broaden participation in their breakthrough sciences for artificial intelligence and machine learning.  

The 26 students came from underrepresented communities that NASA has recently been targeting in order to have all great minds come together to improve the organization’s research.  

“So far, it’s just been fascinating,” Evana Gizzi, tech lead of NASA said. “I keep emphasizing that there’s so much value that can be drawn from this problem with a diverse mindset. It’s a very complex problem so that diversity is very necessary for this kind of research problem.”

Gizzi has been researching problem solving for NASA along with another graduate student Lunet Yifru. Yifru is originally from Ethiopia and said it was a “crazy concept” to work for NASA that seemed impossible, but now she has the opportunity to contribute to its research.  

“I’m very happy to have everyone else help out now and bring new ideas, fresh ideas from all over the U.S.,” she said.  

Throughout the program, students will get a broader understanding of how NASA launches spacecrafts and collects data. Event organizers hope the students will come together to better understand problems that occur in satellites and build their confidence to one day provide support to NASA. 

“I feel very excited that I am contributing to developing this next generation of work force, generating excitement amongst students to undertake such careers in the future and contribute to the economy as a whole in general,” said Piyush Mehta, a WVU assistant professor.   

“As America competes in a global economy these types of skill sets are really crucial for the space race, our space economy and for jobs for Americans that typically don’t get jobs that these technologies can provide them,” James Harrington, project manager for NASA said.  

This was the first time WVU hosted HackWeek and organizers said they hope to have it back in the future.