07:54 AM

UST’s HP Bot-a-Thon Contestants Place Third with Creativity & Aptitude

HP invited only students from select universities to compete in the tech giant’s first University Bot-a-Thon contest. University of St. Thomas-Houston not only made the grade, but one of the University’s three teams tied for third place in the early January event.

HP and Amazon Web Services (AWS) sponsored the competition, and it was robust, with more than twenty teams vying to win or place. UST teams represented Computer Science, Computational Biology and Business majors.

Gigantic Score for UST Team

St. Thomas Computer Science Assistant Professor Carlos Monroy called it a gigantic score for the UST team. “They had to automate business processes using AWS Cloud Computing and AI/ML Services. One of our UST teams really got the judges’ attention with an online chatbot they developed to help customers select which computer to buy.”

Monroy declared the team rose to the challenge to develop their “future of work” skills.

“It was the quality of their application, the integration of multiple cloud services, and that the team successfully deployed the demo for the judges in a live setting,” Monroy said. “One judge even remarked on how brave they were to demo the system live online. They showed confidence, and they should be extremely proud.”

The UST team members who placed were seniors: Computational Biology majors Veronica Macario and Jenny Phan, along with Cell & Molecular Biology major Trey Brittain.

UST-AWS Academy Designation Benefits St. Thomas Students

Their chatbot system was based on AI, artificial intelligence. And St. Thomas’ adoption of AWS cloud technologies in the computer science curriculum paid off.

“Because of this strategy, UST offers AWS courses from AWS Academy, and I’ve incorporated some of them into our computer science curriculum. That means our students receive the foundations for using cloud technology for automation,” Monroy said. “On top of that, AWS offered a specific training to the participants on the technologies that the competition required.”

Motivation and Excitement Overcame the Challenges

Monroy said the pandemic precautions made the task even more challenging. Team members could not work face-to-face on the project, and they had to present their entry virtually. If that was not demanding enough, all of the project preparation happened during the Christmas break when students usually get to chill out. And then, the actual competition took place during the first week of spring semester classes.

Pleased with the performance of the team members, Monroy said, “It was their first automation-hackathon competition, and they were fired up. They showed themselves to be developers and innovators, because they came up with creative ideas and problem-solved using technologies that were very new to them in a short period of time. They had to work.”

Phan said, “It’s incredible that these tech companies are reaching out to benefit students like us by providing the opportunity for us to be creative and apply what we have learned.”

Brittain said, “It was an amazing opportunity to practice programming on a real-life project as a team and learn about the technologies that AWS offers. I learned a lot about cloud computing and machine learning, which are super relevant skills in today’s tech landscape.”

HP Praises the Competitors

HP Chief Transformation Officer, Marie Myers, wrote, “Congratulations to every student who participated in the HP Bot-a-Thon event for bringing their energy, excitement, creativity and aptitude to learn and tackle hard problems.”

UST is a Hispanic-serving institution, and HP aimed to have their bot-a-thon increase opportunities for Hispanic inclusion in technology. More than half of the dozen St. Thomas students who participated were Hispanic.