Hack the Gender Gap: A Women’s Hackathon at USC Annenberg

Hackathon to empower female students with focus on immersive journalism

oculus woman

There’s a serious gender gap in both the journalism and technology industries — especially in business and leadership roles. That’s why MediaShift and the USC Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication are hosting a Women’s Hackathon — a weekend designed for students to develop technological and entrepreneurial skills critical to the journalism jobs of the future, and gain hands-on experience with immersive journalism and virtual reality. Taking place on October 9 to 11, 2015, the weekend will kick off Friday evening with a discussion among top women in media and tech. Then the students will break into teams to create their own startup ideas around immersive journalism and VR, presenting them to judges on Sunday. Faculty and professionals from around the country will serve as team facilitators and mentors. Undergraduate and graduate students are welcome to participate.

The weekend event is MediaShift’s second Women’s Hackathon after last year’s bi-coastal blow-out, with a hackathon at West Virginia University and panel at Google in Silicon Valley.

This year’s event is sponsored by the International Women’s Media Foundation (IWMF) and WVU’s Reed College of Media.


Thanks to the Ford Foundation, we have 11 travel scholarships of up to $500 each to offer to female students who cannot afford travel to Los Angeles. Applications are closed for travel scholarships.

Friday Panel

Willow Bay

Willow Bay

Hack the Gender Gap: How Women in Media and Tech Are Achieving Success, Breaking Down Barriers, and Making a Difference
Location: Lobby at Wallis Annenberg Hall
Time and Date: Oct. 9, 2015; Start time is 7 pm, panel at 7:30 pm, networking after.

To kick off the Hackathon, we’ll have a panel discussion on how women are succeeding and breaking down barriers and making a difference in the media and technology industries. The panel is free and open to the public.

Moderator: Willow Bay, USC Annenberg
Sara Christenson, Raptor Group
Alex Schaffert, KPCC
Carrie Southworth, Twigtale
Potsie Rivera, Grindr

Raptor-logo small

Sponsored by:

Raptor Group is a private investment company backed by the family office of Jim Pallotta, who has been a professional and personal investor for over 30 years. Raptor focuses on various industries including: Consumer, Technology, Sports, Media, Entertainment and Financial Services. Some current investments include the AS Roma soccer team, the Boston Celtics, Airbnb, Artsy, Spotify, Snapchat, Uber, Blue Bottle Coffee, Julep and Spartan Race. Raptor Group has offices in Boston, NYC, Miami, Los Angeles and Austin.

Weekend Speakers

nonny headshot

Nonny de la Peña has been called “The Godmother of Virtual Reality” by Engadget and The Guardian, while Fast Company named her “One of the People Who Made the World More Creative” for her pioneering work in virtual reality. As CEO of Emblematic Group, she uses cutting edge technologies to tell stories — both fictional and news-based — that create intense, empathic engagement on the part of viewers. A graduate of Harvard University, a former correspondent for Newsweek and television drama writer, de la Peña has more than 20 years of award-winning experience in print, film and TV. Her virtual reality work has been featured by the BBC, Mashable, Vice, Wired and many others. Screenings and showcases around the globe have included the Sundance and Tribeca Film Festivals, The World Economic Forum in Davos, Formula 1 Singapore, The Victoria and Albert Museum, The Moscow Museum of Modern Art, and Games For Change; she has also garnered top awards at major gaming festivals including winning the prestigious “Impact Award” at Indiecade. You can follow her on Twitter @NonnyDLP.

Jessica Jackley is an entrepreneur focused on financial inclusion, the sharing economy and social justice. She is best known as a cofounder of Kiva, the world’s first and largest peer-to-pear micro-lending website. She is also a cofounder of ProFounder, a pioneering crowdfunding platform for U.S. entrepreneurs, and Kin & Co. consulting group, helping organizations support women and working families. She is the author of the recently published book, “Clay Water Brick” (Spiegel & Brau). You can follow her on Twitter @jessicajackley.

amara aguilar

Amara Aguilar is an associate professor of professional practice in digital journalism at USC Annenberg. She previously was the journalism department chair and an assistant professor of journalism at Saddleback College in Mission Viejo, Calif., where she advised student news publications and led the journalism program’s mobile and tablet initiatives. She was honored by the California Journalism Education Coalition as “Journalism Educator of the Year” in the two-year college division in 2014. Previously Amara taught multimedia as an assistant professor at Pierce College in Los Angeles, where she taught multimedia storytelling, podcasting, online journalism, media design and development. Follow her on Twitter @amara_media.

kirstin falk headshot

Kirstin Falk is the managing director of marketing innovation at Charles Schwab. She has worked at the intersection of brands, engagement, and technology for 15 years. She began her career working in politics building membership operations and doing online organizing. It was there that she learned the power of technology and advocacy and the value of creating experiences that foster long-term relationships with people. Kirstin then transitioned to working with technology start-ups, where she learned how to build and market products and services to clients with exceptional results. She is motivated by a desire to create simplicity out of complexity and solve problems. Follow her on Twitter @kmfalk.


Our judges for the weekend Hackathon are:

Amara Aguilar, USC Annenberg
Laura Davis, BuzzFeed
Robert Hernandez, USC Annenberg
Nadine Hoffman, IWMF
Violet Mae Lim, Facebook
Ryan Pulliam, Specular Theory
Erin Reilly, USC Annenberg


iwmf logo

Founded in 1990 by a group of prominent U.S. women journalists, the International Women’s Media Foundation is a Washington-based organization that is dedicated to strengthening the role of women journalists worldwide. The IWMF believes the news media worldwide are not truly free and representative without the equal voice of women. The IWMF celebrates the courage of women journalists who overcome threats and oppression to speak out on global issues. Learn more about the IWMF here.

wvu reed logo

The West Virginia University Reed College of Media combines innovative curriculum with real-world, immersive experiences for journalism, strategic communications and media students. In all programs, students learn by doing, producing stories and hands-on projects using the latest digital media technology. The program also has a deep history of social action projects, and it is recognized for exhibiting a willingness to experiment while holding true to the core pursuit of media that matters.

opennews logo

The Hackathon is also 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.

How The Hackathon 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 Hackathon. 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 in immersive journalism and VR that can deliver a singular idea, product, service, or process to serve the public in journalism. Rather than be a traditional Hackathon focused on coding and building, this one will be about collaboration, team-building and entrepreneurship.

Host School

The Hackathon will be hosted by the USC Annenberg School of Journalism and Communication, bringing in female college students from the region and around the country to invent and envision their role and influence in an emerging technology market. The emerging market the Hackathon will focus on is immersive journalism and VR, and the event will include a crash course in virtual reality gear such as Oculus Rift and Google Cardboard.

The program will take place in the new Wallis Annenberg Hall:

wallis annenberg hall


This is a female-only hackathon for any female college students to participate on teams, with female faculty and professionals serving as team facilitators and mentors. The goal is to help the students invent and envision their role in an emerging technology market. No prior technology experience is required.


So far, we have the following schools represented at the Hackathon, with either faculty and/or students attending:

USC Annenberg
University of Virginia
University of Wisconsin
University of California at Davis
Arizona State University
Howard University
Quinnipiac University
West Virginia University
Boston University
Northern Arizona University
University of California at Berkeley
University of Missouri
Northwestern University
Stanford University
University of Texas at Austin
American University
University of Arizona
University of Nevada-Reno
University of San Francisco
Morgan State University


Registration costs $129 for professionals and $79 for students. Entry fee includes breakfast, lunch and dinner on Saturday, and breakfast and lunch on Sunday.


Lodging and Travel

We have a special group rate at the nearby Radisson Hotel:

Radisson Hotel Los Angeles Midtown at USC (8 minute walk)

3540 South Figueroa Street
Los Angeles, CA 90007 USA

Group Rate: $159 + tax

Make reservations by calling (800) 333-3333 and mention “Women’s Hackathon

For other hotel options in the area, and directions to campus, check out our full Travel Information page.

When and Where?

Panel Discussion and Weekend Hackathon

Start: Friday October 9, 2015, at 7 pm Pacific Time
End: Sunday October 11, 2015, at 2:30 pm Pacific Time

Host: USC Annenberg School of Journalism and Communication

Wallis Annenberg Hall
3630 Watt Way
Los Angeles, CA 90089
Google Map location


Friday, October 9

7 pm: Opening Panel Discussion at Wallis Annenberg Hall Forum (in lobby)
“Hack the Gender Gap: How Women are Achieving Success, Breaking Down Barriers and Making a Difference”

Moderator: Willow Bay, USC Annenberg
Sara Christenson, Raptor Group
Alex Schaffert, KPCC
Carrie Southworth, Twigtale
Potsie Rivera, Grindr

10:00 pm: End

Saturday, October 10
Wallis Annenberg Hall

8:00 am: Light breakfast/gathering

8:30 am: Kickoff

Welcome from Robert Hernandez (USC) and Beth Laing (MediaShift)

Explain rules and logistics (Beth Laing)

9:00 am: Speaker Session 1 – Team Collaboration & Brainstorming (Human Centered Design): Amara Aguilar, USC Annenberg

9:30 am: WORK

12:30 pm: Lunch

1:00 pm: Speaker Session 2 – Challenges for VR in Journalism: Nonny del la Pena, Emblematic Group

1:30 pm: WORK

6:00 pm: Dinner

6:30 pm: Speaker Session 3 – How to Market Your Startup: Kirstin Falk, Charles Schwab

7:00 pm: Casual Dinner

Facilitators & mentors meetup; student teams continue to work

10:00 – Night program ends

Sunday, October 11

8:30 am: Light breakfast

9:00 am: Speaker session 4: How to Pitch Your Startup: Jessica Jackley, co-founder Kiva

9:30 am: WORK on presentation

11:30 am: Lunch for judges

12 pm: Lunch for everyone

12 pm: Presentations to judges

1:30 pm: Judging in chambers

2 pm: Announcement of winners and end

Photo of Oculus Rift and woman is by Sergey Galyonkin, via Flickr Creative Commons.

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