Semiannual Sparkathon competition is back

students sit in tables in a room
Students participate in the semiannual Sparkathon challenge in spring 2019. Sign-ups for Saturday’s competition will close soon. (Courtesy of Fabian Fernández-Han)

At liberal arts schools, students learn how to think deeply and ask critical questions. But where do students learn how to implement action for these ideas?

At the 5Cs, it’s by participating in Sparkathon.

Sparkathon is a semiannual 5C-wide competition, where teams of four to six students are tasked with solving real-world challenges. And it’s back for the semester. 

The competition is sponsored by Google and will take place Saturday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m., with brunch and dinner provided. 

It’s structured around the human-centered design process, which is founded on the values of empathy and a collaborative work environment. Past challenges have included troubleshooting Los Angeles homelessness, the prevalence of fake news and human bias in artificial intelligence.

The challenge prompts are announced the morning of the event, and each team has five hours to confer and plan their proposed solutions. Once the teams’ plans are finalized after the five-hour work period, the plans will go through two rounds of judging, with a first, second and third winner announced at the end.

Sparkathon, funded by Pomona Ventures, was founded by Fabian Fernández-Han PO ’20 in spring 2018. Fernández-Han wanted to create a space where students of the 5Cs could get pre-professional help in a non-competitive environment.

“I’ve always felt that case competitions are a very cold and intimidating process, especially for those are not familiar with the pre-professional process,” Fernández-Han said. “I wanted to create a [welcoming] community where people could get some of the same benefits from these competitions in terms of access to recruiting and exposures to different industries.”

Since Sparkathon’s first competition in April 2018, each competition has grown in number of participants and sponsors. The first competition had 130 participants, all from just the 5Cs, and was sponsored by Intuit, according to Fernández-Han. This semester, the Sparkathon team is expecting anywhere from 400 to 450 participants and competitors coming from 20 colleges across California, Fernández-Han said. 

And they’re doing something else new, too. 

Sparkathon is challenging its participants to not only consider their plans hypothetically, but actually implement them. The Sparkathon team is beginning what will be known as Impact Lab, where three top-performing teams will continue to develop the plans they outlined at Sparkathon with funding, resources, mentors and curriculum provided through Pomona Ventures, with the goal of making their plans a reality, Fernández-Han said. 

Students can register for Saturday’s Sparkathon individually or as a team at sparkathon.org. Sign-ups will close soon.

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