Hack the Gender Gap: A Women’s Hackathon on Diversifying AI at WVU

Hackathon & Symposium Will Focus on Artificial Intelligence, Diversity

Brainstorming at the 2016 Hack the Gender Gap Makeathon at WVU

Artificial Intelligence (AI) has a diversity problem. The authors of algorithms that drive the majority of our every day interactivity, participation and decision making do not adequately represent gender, racial or economic diversity they intend to serve. 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 diversifying the emerging artificial intelligence market and conceptualize more inclusive AI entrepreneurial opportunities to meet the future needs of a diverse society. Taking place on November 9-11, 2017, the weekend will kick off Thursday evening with a Special Guest Symposium, with students meeting up with faculty and professional mentors. Then Friday morning, students will break into teams to create their own startup ideas around AI + media, presenting them to judges on Sunday.

Despite the potential economic and social benefits of AI, it has a darker side. Some fear the future of automation and the elimination of jobs, while others fear the threat of “trans-humanism.” But the real danger in artificial intelligence isn’t the threat of robot overlords — it’s AI’s lack of diversity. The underrepresentation in training AI models dismisses the experience of entire segments of the population. The goal of Diversifying AI is to explore how it can unite us, empower us, and create a more just world. But we have to also confront how it can divide us, perpetuate injustices, and worse, create new ones. To truly understand these opportunities — and risks – we have to know them. This event will give participants a deep dive into the current state, problems and opportunities facing AI, and offers a series of creative exercises and fast-paced activities for teams to brainstorm solutions for a more inclusive AI that meets the future needs of a diverse society.

Note: This Hackathon does NOT require any experience in computer programming. It will focus on artificial intelligence and media, and creating business models for a media-related startup.

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

Travel Scholarships

Thanks to Google News Lab and OpenNews, we are offering travel scholarships for up to $400 for students who can’t otherwise afford to get to the Hackathon. Students will be chosen according to financial hardship, with an emphasis on helping women of color to attend.

Please apply for a scholarship here, and the deadline is October 4, 2017.

Kickoff Symposium

While the Hackathon is a women’s only event, the symposium is open to everyone, giving a larger audience the chance to join the conversation. The symposium will explore how innovations like artificial intelligence can unite and empower us, while also confronting how it can divide us.

Thursday, November 9, 6:30 pm
Media Innovation Center
Evansdale Crossing Building, 4th Floor
62 Morrill Way, Morgantown, WV

Moderator: Erin Reilly, WVU
Flynn Coleman, Malena
Susan Etlinger, Altimeter Group
Michelle Ferrier, Ohio University / Troll-Busters.com

The symposium is free of charge, but please RSVP to hold your spot!

How The Hackathon Works

From the students, faculty and pros assembled, we’ll create “dream teams” with people from various schools on one team. Each team will have a mix of necessary disciplines — marketer, designer, tech person, business-savyy pro or faculty facilitator — who will learn to work together in the crucible of the weekend Hackathon. The weekend will be a combination of focused talks and training from innovation leaders and experts, work sessions and final presentations of startups from each team. Faculty and industry experts will provide expertise to each team and help them rapidly develop their solution. Judges will pick a winning team based on the startup’s Viability, Feasibility, Social Impact and Wow Factor — as well as how well they use AI to bridge a diversity gap.

Each team will be comprised of students who will be doing the main work of brainstorming, designing and presenting their idea. Faculty and pros who attend will also be assigned to teams (or as floating mentors) to serve as facilitators and resources for the students — helping them stay on track and making sure all the students participate on the team.

Key Speakers

Dr. Michelle Ferrier is the founder of Troll-Busters.com, a service for women journalists who are targets of online harassment. The service recently launched a bot to help journalists navigate online harassment. She is the 2017 SXSW Dewey Winburne community service award recipient for her work with TrollBusters. Ferrier experienced harassment as a former columnist with a Florida newspaper and as a developer of online communities for commercial and nonprofit organizations. She has spoken about online harassment at the United Nations, the European Commission, the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, the Committee to Protect Journalists, the Online News Association and other professional venues. She is the past president of Journalism That Matters, a nonprofit organization that hosts breakthrough conversations on the emerging media landscape and community engagement and the designer of the Create or Die series of startup workshops. Ferrier is an associate professor at the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism at Ohio University.

Flynn Coleman is an international human rights attorney, educator, author, public speaker, social entrepreneur and innovator. She is also an ethical fashion designer; a mindfulness, innovation, and creativity teacher; a social justice activist; a former competitive athlete; and a founder and CEO of Malena. Flynn is also the founding fellow at the Grunin Center for Law and Social Entrepreneurship at NYU School of Law. She has a background in innovative approaches to economic development, international trade law, war crimes, genocide, behavioral economics, political reconciliation, post-conflict justice, artificial intelligence, and improving access to justice through innovation. She has spoken, written, and taught extensively on issues of global justice, social enterprise, and social impact, human rights, artificial intelligence, and technology, innovation and design in social impact, storytelling, redefining success, and the future of work, purpose, technology, and humanity. Follow her on Twitter @flynncoleman.

Susan Etlinger is an industry analyst at Altimeter. Her research focuses on the impact of artificial intelligence, data and advanced technologies on business and culture, and is used in university curricula around the world. Susan’s TED talk, “What Do We Do With All This Big Data?” has been translated into 25 languages and has been viewed more than 1 million times. She is a sought-after keynote speaker, and has been quoted in media outlets including the Wall Street Journal, BBC, and New York Times. You can follow her on Twitter @setlinger.

Amara Aguilar is an associate professor of professional practice in digital journalism at USC Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Her areas of focus are mobile, social, design and emerging platforms. She is also the associate director for the Institute of Diversity and Empowerment at Annenberg. She loves journalism and all things tech. You can follow her on Twitter @amara_media.

Jennifer Ellis-Juncaj is a Venture Coach who mentors university students developing their entrepreneurial skills and mindsets through individualized coaching, ideation, and venture creation support. Jennifer is the founder of Giggle Chips, a traditional card game that uses learning through play to help prepare young children ages 0-6 for STEM education and careers. Her recent accomplishments include Regional Los Angeles Winner and national semi-finalist of the 2017 InnovateHER: Innovating for Women Business Plan Challenge hosted by the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) in partnership with the Small Business Association. She is a toy inventor participant in ABC’s season 2 of “The Toy Box” toy-competition series. She holds a degree in Business Administration from Brandman University, Chapman University Network.

Ximena Acosta is a pioneer in the diversity and multicultural space. She is an experience designer with a background in marketing, communications and research. Having lived in 6 countries, 8 cities and countless neighborhoods, she has been able to see the world through many different lenses. Each experience has broadened her vision on how to improve the lives of those around her as well as her own. She has held corporate positions at Estee Lauder, Comcast and Universal among others where she worked in marketing, market research and cultural insights to better understand the relationship between people and brands and users and products. She currently works on consulting projects for various clients including NBC, Gibson, Lexus and Sony. You can follow her on Twitter @XimenaAcosta.

Megan Tiu is the COO of Frenzy, an early stage artificial intelligence startup. Frenzy is creating an automated visual product recognition system that uses deep learning and computer vision to identify and match exact products in images. Megan has a background in engineering from the University of Southern California, where she met the other co-founders of Frenzy. She has experienced the lack of gender diversity in STEM and has a mission to help other women enter and succeed in male-dominated fields.

Erin Reilly is an innovator, educator, strategist with 20 years of experience inventing new approaches, products, and experiences. She consults on storytelling, engagement, play and learning through emergent technology. Erin was on the founding team of the University of Southern California’s Annenberg Innovation Lab holding the positions of Managing Creative Director and Research Fellow. She has been a guest lecturer worldwide at universities as well industry conferences. She is a member of the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, Board President of NAMLE (National Association for Media Literacy Educators) and serves on advisory boards, such as Disney Junior and PBS. Follow her on Twitter @ebreilly or learn more about her here.

mark glaser bw headshot

Mark Glaser is founder and executive editor of MediaShift. He is a longtime freelance journalist whose career includes columns on hip-hop, reviews of videogames, travel stories, and humor columns that poked fun at the titans of technology. Glaser won the Innovation Journalism Award in 2010 from the Stanford Center for Innovation and Communication. Glaser has been a guest on PBS’ “Newshour,” NPR’s “Talk of the Nation,” KALW’s “Media Roundtable” and has been a speaker and moderator at many industry conferences. He has been running events for MediaShift and acting as the MC since 2012. You can follow him on Twitter @mediatwit.


The Google News Lab strongly believes in the importance of quality journalism — original, fact-based reporting that spreads knowledge and has the power to improve people’s lives — and the journalists who produce it. The Lab believes in Google’s capacity to be a positive force in helping journalists strengthen digital storytelling and produce more in-depth reporting. And, the Lab is the voice for journalism inside Google — to ensure that the interests, needs, and concerns of journalists are surfaced and reflected in the products and services Google offers as a company. There are four areas where Google News Lab focuses: trust and verification; data journalism; immersive storytelling; and inclusive storytelling. Learn more here.

OpenNews connects a network of developers, designers, journalists and editors to collaborate on open technologies and processes within journalism. OpenNews believes that a community of peers working, learning and solving problems together can create a stronger, more responsive, and ascendant journalism ecosystem. Incubated at Mozilla from 2011-2016, OpenNews is now a project of Community Partners. Learn more here.

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

Hack the Gender Gap Series

WVU Reed College of Media and MediaShift launched the Hack the Gender Gap series in 2014. The series has explored both the perils and promise of new technology, while highlighting opportunities for leadership and influence for women, minorities and other underrepresented groups in technology. Previous hackathons have helped to launch women creators in emerging technology — from wearables in 2014 to virtual reality in 2015 to internet of things (IoT) in 2016. 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 AI — and medias’s — future.

Host School

The Hackathon 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. Learn more about the college here.

Students gather at the Media Innovation Center at WVU for the 2016 Makeathon


This is a female-only hackathon 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.


Early Bird Registration costs $99 for faculty and professionals and $49 for students. After October 9, regular registration prices will be $119 for faculty and professionals, and $69 for students. There is a 10% discount for groups of 5 or more participants (plus Eventbrite fees). Registration prices help cover the cost of producing the event and catering. Registrants get free meals on Saturday and Sunday until the end of the Hackathon.

Please go to this Eventbrite page to register now!

Lodging and Travel

For more information on hotels and suggested transportation options, go to our special Travel Page for the Hackathon.

When and Where?

Kick-Off Symposium: 6:30 pm to 8:30 pm Eastern Time at WVU Reed College of Media on Thursday November 9, 2017.
Hackathon: 8:00 am Eastern Time at WVU Reed College of Media on Friday November 10, 2017, until 2 pm Saturday, November 11, 2017.

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



    Thursday, November 9, 2017

6:30 p.m. – Registration and refreshments
7 p.m. – Welcome: Maryanne Reed (WVU)
7:15 p.m. – Panel discussion on AI + Diversity:

Moderator: Erin Reilly (WVU)
Panelists: Flynn Coleman (Malena), Susan Etlinger (Altimeter Group), Michelle Ferrier (Ohio U.)

8:30 p.m. – Night program ends; dinner on your own

    Friday, November 10, 2017

8:00 a.m. – Light breakfast
8:30 a.m. – Kickoff
Welcome: Erin Reilly (WVU)
Rules and logistics: Mark Glaser (MediaShift)
9:00 a.m. – Speaker Session 1 – Challenges for Diversity in AI: Amara Aguilar (USC Annenberg)
9:30 a.m. – WORK
12:30 p.m. – Lunch
1:00 p.m. – Speaker Session 2 – Human-Centered Design: Ximena Acosta (experience designer)
1:30 p.m. – WORK
6:30 p.m. – Dinner
7:00 p.m. – Speaker Session 3 – Your Business and Marketing Plan: Megan Tiu (Frenzy)
7:30 p.m. – Mentors and facilitators go out; teams continue to work with students only
10 p.m. – Night program ends

    Saturday November 11, 2017

8:30 a.m. – Light breakfast
9:00 a.m. – Speaker session 4 – Presenting Your Idea: Jennifer Ellis-Juncaj (venture coach)
9:30 a.m. – WORK on presentations
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 #AIdiversity.

Photos of 2016 WVU Makeathon by David Smith / WVU

  • Who We Are

    MediaShift is the premier destination for insight and analysis at the intersection of media and technology. The MediaShift network includes MediaShift, EducationShift, MetricShift and Idea Lab, as well as workshops and weekend hackathons, email newsletters, a weekly podcast and a series of DigitalEd online trainings.

    About MediaShift »
    Contact us »
    Sponsor MediaShift »
    MediaShift Newsletters »

    Follow us on Social Media