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NKU computer science student explores his career opportunities through competition

Tobel Atnafu
Photo by Hannah Siefert

by Hannah Siefert
Contributor, NKU Magazine

It only took Tobel Atnafu 24 hours to realize what he wanted to do for the rest of his life. Tobel, a computer science sophomore at Northern Kentucky University and native of Ethiopia, participated in the 84.51° Hackathon hosted at the event’s downtown Cincinnati headquarters in September and walked away victorious in a data-usage competition. And now he never wants to stop developing applications.

When Maureen Doyle, chair of the Department of Computer Science at NKU, received word of the event, she shared it in hopes students within the department would take on the challenge.

“It is experiences like this one that really push our students to use what they have learned within the college and advance their knowledge further,” Doyle says. “It also makes them more attractive to employers.”

Tobel jumped at the chance to participate, seeing it as an opportunity to broaden his horizons and increase his knowledge of a subject he’d only just began studying.

In this year’s competition, 84.51° wanted teams of university students from across the country to focus on artificial intelligence—a hot topic in today’s world.

Each team was presented with the task of developing a solution for some problem seen within the AI field. Tobel’s team included a senior from Indiana University and two Purdue University sophomores.

Their challenge? Create a web application based on provided data that could take a customer’s Kroger Plus number and review the associated purchase history. Using the information, the application would recommend healthier, as well as cheaper, food options to the customer.

The app won first place in the “Best Use of Kroger Data” category. Tobel was shocked when he learned his team would take home the award—he wasn’t well-versed enough in application development to ever expect such an outcome.

“You would think that sleeping on the ground for three hours would be an awful experience,” he says, “but it actually made it that much more fun!”

Tobel found the general direction of his career path in the Hackathon experience. He’s currently pursuing computer science at an undergraduate level and hopes to one day attend graduate school to continue his studies.

“The College of Informatic’s goal is to help our students find their passion within the information realm of our world,” Doyle says. “Chances like this enhance that goal.”