Hack the Gender Gap: A Women’s IoT Makeathon at WVU

Makeathon will focus on “Internet of Things,” sensor journalism


There’s a serious gender gap when it comes to representation of women in the media and tech businesses. That’s why MediaShift and the Reed College of Media at West Virginia University will convene college-age women from around the country to envision their role and influence in the emerging “smart-world” market and opportunities for entrepreneurship. Taking place on April 1-3, 2016, the weekend will kick off Friday evening with a mixer among students, faculty and professional mentors. Then, students will break into teams to create their own startup ideas around hardware + journalism, presenting them to judges on Sunday.

From smart-objects to beacons, sensors and augmented reality, this hands-on Makeathon introduces women as first-generation makers in media and the Internet of Things (IoT). Prominent women leaders in media and technology will inspire, mentor and participate in a series of DIY challenges designed to problem solve, invent and craft solutions that make sense for journalism and media enterprises. The Makeathon will focus on new markets in IoT and their potential impact in journalism and media, including new forms of sensor journalism; reporting with networked smart objects; storytelling with beacons; combining augmented reality and 3-D printing, and more. Faculty and professionals from around the country will serve as team facilitators and mentors. Undergraduate and graduate students are welcome to participate.

Note: This Makeathon does NOT require any experience in computer programming. It will focus on prototyping hardware and creating business models for a journalism-related startup.

Please go to this Eventbrite page to register for the Makeathon now!

Hack the Gender Gap Series

WVU Reed College of Media and MediaShift launched the Hack the Gender Gap series in 2014. Previous hackathons have helped to launch women creators in emerging technology — from wearables in 2014 to virtual reality in 2015. Technology is a force of disruption and influence across almost every industry, and women are underrepresented in technology companies. Emerging technology is the continued focus for this series as we highlight WVU’s Media Innovation Center’s “early adoption” philosophy as a strategy for influence and agency for women in next-generation markets.

Our message to women is that early makers and developers have the opportunity to shape IoT — and journalism’s — future.

Key Speakers

Umbreen Bhatti - headshot

Umbreen Bhatti works at the intersections of law, media and design, providing human-centered design coaching and advice on strategy to initiatives and institutions keen on ensuring their work addresses real human needs and truly helps the people they serve. Umbreen fell in love with design while she was a John S. Knight Journalism Fellow at Stanford, where she used it to create a tool to help local TV journalists identify and tell underreported stories about people’s experiences with our legal system. Prior to coming to Stanford, Umbreen was the co-founder of a project that demystified Islamic law for news audiences. Previously, she practiced as a civil rights lawyer at the ACLU of Delaware and the Disability Rights Legal Center. Umbreen serves as a member of the advisory boards to two publications that bring important, critical voices to complex topics: Religion Dispatches and HRDCVR. She also produces and hosts Kaleidoscope, a podcast that explores how people engage with Islam today. You can find her on Twitter @ub14.

Gina Dahlia

Gina Dahlia is a teaching associate professor and the Journalism chair at the WVU Reed College of Media and an award-winning documentarian and former television news anchor. Dahlia quickly understood the “power of effective public speaking” when she taught her first class at WVU in the fall of 2001. She propelled her speaking skills from the classroom to the boardroom when her film, “The Monongah Heroine,” received national and international attention in December of 2007. She traveled all over West Virginia promoting the film and its message of the resilience of the immigrant widows left behind after the mining disaster to raise their families. Dahlia found herself on the public speaking circuit once again in 2012, after receiving the WVU Foundation Award for Outstanding Teaching. She harnessed the power of “Ted Talks” in her public speaking engagements focused on contagious optimism and the power of positive thinking. You can follow her on Twitter @ginadahlia.

christine sunu headshot

Christine Sunu is the GE Fellow in BuzzFeed’s Open Lab for Journalism, Technology, and the Arts, where she builds internet connected plush toys and examines the interaction between technology and emotion. She writes widely about human connection, health, and technology. She was an integral part of the team at Particle, the software and hardware platform for IoT, and has worked at Yale Medical School and Children’s Hospital Boston.


Tiffany Shackelford is the executive director of the Association of Alternative Newsmedia (AAN), where she has focused on pushing the alternative media industry forward through research and development of smart digital tools; strategic partnering for monetization streams; community and demographics development and reminding the public of the importance of local media that speaks truth to power. Before leading AAN, Shackelford was the director of communications and marketing at Phase2 Technology, where she built and oversaw a robust publishing practice. Shackelford is the founder and co-organizer of the Washington, D.C., area Online News Association group, which has more than 1,500 members. She has also worked at Capitolbeat, Stateline.org, the Democratic Leadership Council and Progressive Policy Institute and has consulted for multiple media organizations, including News21, KQED and the International Women’s Media Foundation. She is on the advisory board for The Project for Improved Environmental Coverage and had advised multiple news nonprofits and startups.


opennews logo

The Makeathon is sponsored by Mozilla OpenNews. OpenNews connects a global network of developers, journalists, makers and hackers to collaborate on innovative code and new ideas. We believe a community of peers working, learning and solving problems together can create the tools journalism needs to thrive on the open Web. Keep up with that community via our website Source.

The Ogden Newspapers Seminar Series at the WVU Reed College of Media is also a sponsor. Ogden Newspapers, Inc., is a diversified media corporation that publishes 40 daily newspapers, several magazines, weekly newspapers and shoppers located in 14 states from Florida to upstate New York and as far west as Maui, Hawaii. The company sponsors the seminar series to bring high-profile industry leaders to the WVU campus.

Maker kits for our student teams have been donated by Particle, a prototype-to-production platform for developing an Internet of Things product.


The WVU chapter of the National Association of Women MBAs (NAWMBA) has sponsored the Friday night refreshments. NAWMBA is dedicated to propelling women MBA students and professionals into leadership positions in business. The WVU chapter is committed to educating undergraduate women of the benefit of earning an MBA degree in order to achieve equality in management positions across all industries.

sparkfun logo

Prizes for the winning team are provided by SparkFun, an online retail store that sells the bits and pieces to make your electronics projects possible.

Interested in sponsoring the Makeathon? Get in touch with MediaShift’s Mark Glaser at mark [at] mediashift [dot] org.

How The Makeathon Works

From the students, faculty and pros assembled, we’ll create “dream teams” with a mix of necessary disciplines — content, design, technology and business — who will learn to work together in the crucible of the Makeathon. The weekend will be a combination of focused talks and training from innovation leaders and experts, work sessions and final presentations of solutions from each team. Faculty and industry experts will provide expertise to each team and help them rapidly develop their product or concept.

Teams will envision, map and pitch a startup use for Internet of Things, sensor journalism or other hardware that can deliver a singular idea, product, service, or process to solve a problem in the media industry. Rather than a traditional Hackathon focused on coding and building, this one will be about collaboration, team-building and entrepreneurship.

Host School

The Makeathon will be hosted by West Virginia University’s Reed College of Media, bringing in college-age women from the region and around the country to invent and envision their role and influence in an emerging technology market. The program will take place in the Media Innovation Center at the Reed College of Media (see image below). Learn more about the college here.

WVU Media Innovation Center


This is a female-only makeathon for any college-age woman, faculty or professional who wants to invent and envision her role in an emerging technology market. No prior technology experience is required.


Registration costs $129 for faculty and professionals, and $59 for students and a 15% discount for groups of 5 or more participants (plus Eventbrite fees).

Please go to this Eventbrite page to register now!

Lodging and Travel

Area hotels and suggested transportation options

When and Where?

Makeathon: 6:30 pm Eastern Time at WVU Reed College of Media on April 1, 2016, until 2 pm Sunday, April 3, 2016.

WVU Reed College of Media
Media Innovation Center
Evansdale Crossing Building, 4th Floor
62 Morrill Way
Morgantown, WV 26506



    Friday, April 1

6:30 p.m. – Registration and refreshments, meet your team!
7 p.m. – Welcome: Maryanne Reed (WVU) + Mark Glaser (MediaShift) + Alexandra Kanik (MediaShift)
7:15 p.m. – Petting zoo stations: Hands-on experince with DIY hardware
8:45 p.m. – Night program ends; dinner on your own

    Saturday, April 2

8:00 a.m. – Light breakfast
8:30 a.m. – Kickoff
Inspiration: Dana Coester (WVU)
Rules and logistics: Alexandra Kanik (MediaShift) + Amy Kovac-Ashley (WVU)
9:00 a.m. – Speaker Session 1 – Human-Centered Design: Umbreen Bhatti
9:30 a.m. – Lo-fi Prototyping: Dana Coester (WVU)
9:45 a.m. – WORK
12:30 p.m. – Lunch
1:00 p.m. – Speaker Session 2 – The Internet of Things Landscape: Christine Sunu (BuzzFeed)
1:30 p.m. – WORK
6:00 p.m. – Concept tasting for dinner
6:30 p.m. – Speaker Session 3 – Marketing and Your Business Plan: Tiffany Shackelford (AAN)
7:00 p.m. – Mentors and facilitators meet up; teams continue to work with students only
10 p.m. – Night program ends

9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m.: Petting zoo stations available for inspiration and refresh
1:30 p.m. to 4 p.m.: Particle prototyping one-on-one sessions with Christine Sunu

    Sunday, April 3

8:30 a.m. – Light breakfast
9 a.m. – Speaker session 4 – Presenting Your Idea: Gina Dahlia (WVU)
9:30 a.m. – WORK on presentation
11:30 a.m. – Lunch for judges
Noon – Lunch for everyone; team presentations
1:30 p.m. – Judging in chambers
2 p.m. – Announcement of winners and closing remarks

Tweet about your experience with #gendergap and #makeathon.

Caption for top image: Students in the stream lab experimental journalism class launch water sensors in the Monongahela River. Photo by David Smith/WVU Reed College of Media.

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