Power of the People

Midterms have arrived, meaning we’re knee-deep into the “Stevens squeeze,” as Dr. (“Doc”) Lombardi calls it. Yesterday, I was daydreaming of apple picking and brisk autumnal nights. Today, I’m rummaging through my notes, wishing desperately for an algorithm that would narrow down the need-to-knows for my upcoming exams. Even in the depths of midterm week, it’s important to take a stretch from the squeeze. So instead of joining my senior colleagues to sip away our sorrows at Sangria Sunday, I attended the last segment of the first-annual Stevens Venture Center Digital Healthcare Hackathon.
Let’s get this straight: my attendance was a result of the extreme hospitality of none other than Doc Lombardi himself. A previous email to him had begun with a question on a completely unrelated topic but ended with an invitation to attend the Hackathon as a guest. Sure, I had homework to complete, midterms to study for, and laundry to fold, but when there’s too much on your plate, push it off and try something new (disclaimer: that doesn’t always work).
Serving as a spectator was such a pleasurable experience. With Dr. Lombardi as both the MC and my personal networking ninja, I was able to meet the organizers of the event, including current students Austin Cawley-Edwards and Fran Bueti, as well as Stevens alum Premal Kadmar and his brother, Vishal. Together, with the help of Stevens Venture Center Director Adriene Choma, the brainpower of this small group hosted a weekend-long hackathon, with 10 teams working diligently and speedily to deliver a digital healthcare product targeting non-compliance, diagnosis, management, or healthcare delivery.
Have you ever watched one of those videos where a 12-year-old is on the TedX stage, talking about her latest development in nuclear physics while she’s simultaneously taking second-year level courses at Harvard? If you have, you’ll understand that overwhelming, awe-struck, oh-my-god-do-I-even-know-anything feeling that I felt while observing the teams stand in front of an impressive panel of judges. There was an eleventh-grader on one team, for crying out loud! As each team presented, the digital tools and solutions became more and more impressive, as my self-esteem continued to sink more deeply into my swivel seat.
I’m exaggerating; I’m decent at Calculus and Chemistry, so that counts for something, right? I got over my pity-party pretty quickly because it has come to me that I am living in a time where solutions to issues — small and large — are being developed, marketed and implemented at a stellar rate. I’m slightly frightened — mostly by imaginary genius 12-year-old nuclear physicists that go to Harvard — but more so invigorated by the collective intelligence of my peers. I had a brief conversation with one of the competitors before she knew that she’d be going home with a portion of the second-place $3000 prize. She noted that although she did not have the coding or business skills, she was able to offer her knowledge of the body given her clinical experience.
This brief discussion made me pause and reflect on how we sometimes react to others’ success. Perhaps we get down on ourselves because we envy the gains of others, especially when we feel like the stars have not been aligning for us — it’s natural. That being said, the power lies in the people, not the individual person. You and I might not have it all, but collectively, the potential for success increases dramatically. Team-based thinking isn’t my best skill, but if I learned anything from this hackathon, I’d better get working on it.
So this week, I’m giving the Stevens Venture Center a shout-out: thanks for showing me how success does come in numbers, for fostering my non-existent entrepreneurial spirit, and for demonstrating, yet again, how being surrounded by intelligence gives you the power.