300 young women from around the nation traveled to the Triangle last weekend to participate in the second annual Pearl Hacks, a weekend hackathon at UNC-Chapel Hill created by a student with a mission to get more women excited about technology.
How a UNC Senior Built a Women's Movement with Pearl Hacks
The event was designed to create a welcoming environment for women in high school, college or graduate school to work together and further their knowledge of computer science, coding and programming in multiple formats and platforms. Its brainchild was UNC senior in computer science and graphic design majors, Maegan Clawges.
Clawges founded Pearl Hacks last year after a pivotal moment in her own life. She was at a different hackathon when her close female friend was sexually assaulted.
“We looked around at the event and it really opened my eyes and I realized there were no women there,” Clawges said.
She wanted to get more women in the room at these events, so she began to invite friends to join her. But most declined—though they had interest in technology, they didn’t feel comfortable spending an entire weekend working in a room with mostly men. So Clawges took action, and in 2014 hosted the first Pearl Hacks, drawing 150 young women who dreamt up these 26 projects. She raised money and brought on sponsors like Google (where she interned in 2014), Cisco, Pebble and Red Hat to provide mentors, support and global-in-scope prizes. This year, for an event double in size, her boss from a Microsoft internship, Program Manager Lead Dona Sarkar, agreed to give a keynote address.
“Pearl Hacks is all about marketing to my female friends who absolutely can do this, and if given the right resources, can make amazing things,” Clawges said.
The team went on to win first place overall for the event. They’ll receive an all expenses paid trip to Global Hackathon Seoul in Seoul, South Korea this July.
After the event, Clawges happily congratulated all of the participants who cheered when she walked onto the stage. Although she is graduating this May and will be moving on from UNC, she has great hopes for the future of Pearl Hacks.
“I’m excited to see how it will change and grow. I hope that the organizers will have a vision that reaches other girls,” Clawges said. She also hopes that each and every participant leaves the event feeling inspired to move forward in the technology and computer science field. She shares several 2014 success stories in her portfolio.
“Computer science is a field where you can learn how to do anything that you want to do just by looking online or working with a mentor,” Clawges said. “There is no barrier to entry. You can sit down and in 24 hours go from not knowing anything to making a website and winning a prize. Whatever you are passionate about, whatever you want to be, computer science will help you do that better.”