By: Anthony Cook
Students from four historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs) squared off in the second annual HBCU Energy Hackathon presented by the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE). The event featured teams from Alabama A&M University, Tuskegee University, Talladega College and Lawson State Community College competing for prizes totaling $15,000.
The Birmingham Chapter of AABE partnered with the Alabama Power Foundation to present the hackathon, held Nov. 16 at Alabama Power headquarters in downtown Birmingham. Students worked with pitch coaches to develop their ideas on “Enhancing Sustainable Transportation.” The teams were scored on creativity, innovation, potential impact and presentation delivery.
“Team Tornadoes” from Talladega College took home the first-place prize of $10,000 for proposing a way to make communities more walkable and bike-friendly. The team’s project proposed extending existing sidewalks using plastic roads and developing an app to help operate electric buses and bike stations.
Coming in second place was Alabama A&M, which was last year’s winner. “The Bulldogs” received $5,000 for their idea to use geospatial analysis to develop a pass that allows commuters via monthly subscription to access a transportation system that deploys electric buses, bikes and scooters.
The HBCU Energy Hackathon is just one facet of Alabama Power’s and the Alabama Power Foundation’s ongoing support of Alabama HBCUs. In 2023 alone, the foundation provided more than $1.5 million to the state’s HBCUs and their students.
“The Alabama Power Foundation understands the importance of investing in HBCU students,” said Staci Brown Brooks, Alabama Power Foundation president. “Our support of this event underscores our commitment to providing students with unique and innovative learning opportunities.”
The first AABE HBCU Hackathon in 2022 included teams from Tuskegee University and Alabama A&M. This year, volunteers from Alabama Power and sister companies Southern Nuclear and Southern Company Services worked with students as pitch coaches and judges. They also engaged with students during multiple activities that took place around the hackathon, including an electric vehicle demonstration, speed networking with energy industry professionals, and a panel discussion. Students from the Ramsay High School Engineering Academy in Birmingham tuned in to watch the Hackathon virtually.
A networking event held the night before the hackathon allowed the student teams to meet energy professionals and learn more about their careers. Jonathan Porter, Alabama Power senior vice president of Customer Operations, and Circe Starks, Alabama Power director of Environmental Affairs and Sustainability, shared their stories as HBCU graduates.
Students participating in this year’s competition were: Izuchukwu Mba, Ayomikun Oyeniyi, Thabhelo Duve, Natalie Need and Chane Rodriquez from Talladega College; Kamsiyochukwu Arinze, Koby Draper, Alina Tullos, Opeyeoluwa Olanipekun and Dai’Jah Tarver from Alabama A&M University; Nathon Tubbs, Domonique Cole, Kyra Anderson, Tyriq Turner and Ja’Mya Howard from Tuskegee University; and Cameron Threats, Amaya Benion, Makailah Davidson and Kayla Robinson from Lawson State Community College.
AABE chapters are dedicated to promoting and building awareness around energy and energy issues and sustainability by offering community engagement opportunities and innovative educational programs. Another focus for AABE is encouraging African American students to pursue careers in energy-related fields.
“Our chapter is thrilled to offer this opportunity again for HBCU students,” said Ernest Burnley, AABE Birmingham Chapter president and a Southern Nuclear manager. “We always want to provide them with an opportunity to learn from energy professionals about new career fields, which is one of the purposes of the American Association of Blacks in Energy.”