Three UTRGV students were selected out of an international pool of applicants to participate in one of the largest hackathons in the world, HackMIT 2017, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

UTRGV seniors Abigail Gomez, a computer hardware engineering major, Michael Rayas, an electrical engineering major, and Roy Marroquin, a computer hardware engineering major, experienced a range of firsts in representing UTRGV at the conference.

“It was my first time being on a plane,” Gomez said. “I was freaking out!”

A total of 1,000 students – who grouped into 250 four-person teams – were chosen to attend the hackathon, held Sept. 15-17. In attendance were representatives from Google, Microsoft, IBM, Facebook, Reddit and other large tech companies who also served as judges for the competitions. Students heard from speakers and were able to network with some of the most talented computer engineering students in the world.

Of the 250 teams, just 15 were chosen by Microsoft based on a challenge to help program their world’s first holographic computer – Microsoft Hololens. The UTRGV team of three and a partner from the University of Miami, Germán Quiros, were chosen for the challenge as a reward for their good work on the proposal.

The group – which had 24 hours to create a program using the as yet unreleased technology –chose to create a program meant for hospital-ridden children that tells stories, with characters who interact with them.

“While we were brainstorming, we wanted to think of something that could truly change lives,” Marroquin said.

Microsoft and Disney reviewed the UTRGV team’s creation.

Besides programing unreleased technology, the conference also served as the perfect setting for networking.

A few days before the conference, Gomez received a call from a robotics company based in Massachusetts, asking to set up an interview with her for an internship. She has participated in the first round of interviews, and is waiting to hear from them.

“The whole experience felt surreal,” she said. “While we were up there, people would ask where we were from, and when we would tell them, they had no idea where that was and assumed it was a special engineering school.

“I think it’s important for people to know that opportunities are definitely out there for us. You just need to look for them,” she said.