These Students Are Hacking The Government To Try To Solve The World’s Problems

By Tracey Lien
Los Angeles Times

WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) A group of Stanford students are trying to solve some of the toughest problems facing the country and the world. In courses like “Hacking 4 Defense” and “Hacking 4 Diplomacy”, teams of students choose from a list of real problems plaguing the government. The teams are then paired with sponsors from the Defense or State departments and tasked with not just finding a solution, but coming up with a viable product that the government would actually use.

SAN FRANCISCO

They’re some of the brightest students in the country, a group of wunderkinds known for hacking their way through any problem thrown at them. So what could possibly stump a Stanford University student?

Government bureaucracy, it seems.

In a lecture hall nestled in Stanford’s Environment and Energy building, dozens of engineering, science and arts students were put through the bureaucratic wringer this year when they took Hacking 4 Defense and Hacking 4 Diplomacy.

The courses, taken for credit and taught by Stanford instructors, let teams of students choose from a list of real problems plaguing the government, paired them with sponsors from the Defense or State departments, and tasked them with not just finding a solution, but coming up with a viable product that the government would actually use.

“It was really humbling,” said Katie Joseff, 21, a human biology major who took Hacking 4 Diplomacy this fall. “My team had to make lots of pivots because over and over again our assumptions just weren’t correct. We had to first break through the bubble of Stanford, then Silicon Valley, then California, then the U.S.”

The problems included finding ways to track objects in orbit to prevent space collisions, developing tools to assess the effectiveness of peacekeeping forces, and in Joseff’s case, designing a platform for a coordinated response to the Syrian refugee crisis.

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