March 22, 2019

Students presenting at the social justice hackathon

Teams of University students competed in developing action plans addressing particular social issues, such as homelessness or income inequality, as part of a “hackathon” on March 19. The hackathon was part of the second annual Novak Symposium, a day-long conference promoting continued discussion of issues and themes that the late Michael Novak focused on.

The teams presented their plans before a panel of judges and the winning team walked away with $100 Amazon gift cards. The winners of the hackathon were sophomores Matthew Chavira (Hispanic Studies and Education), Charlie Lyden (Finance and Theology), and Sean O'Grady (International Economics and Finance) whose social issue was underperforming schools.

The chief organizer for the symposium was Elizabeth Shaw, assistant director for special academic programs at the Ciocca Center for Principled Entrepreneurship in the Busch School of Business and a lecturer in the School of Philosophy.

“What I would really like to see this year and moving forward is more student engagement, and that’s where the idea for the hackathon came from,” she said. “I would love to see this become more of a student-focused event that attracts and inspires young people to take in what Michael Novak was trying to teach us."

Freshman electrical engineering major Wesley E. Garnes II and sophomore politics major Kara Sagan heard about the symposium and hackathon through Shaw and were paired together as a team. For their project, they decided to address the issue of cross-cultural tension concerning the situation in Myanmar. They both expressed their appreciation for Novak’s lessons.

“I enjoy Novak’s work because there is an emphasis on individual responsibility when dealing with the idea of social justice,” Garnes said. “Today’s political sphere is a lot about group mentality and I think the individual is ultimately responsible for how the world works and how it can be made better.”

Students presenting at the hackathon

As a politics major, Sagan was particularly interested in the social justice aspect of the hackathon. “I’m interested in learning about the politics behind these issues and how it can dramatically be improved,” she said.

Michael Novak studied at Catholic University in 1958 and 1959 and had lectured at the University. The author of more than 50 books and innumerable columns, lectures, and articles, Novak was highly regarded for his religious scholarship and intellectual independence. In 2016 he joined the business school as a distinguished visiting professor, a position he held until he died in 2017.

Addressing the themes of social justice and a free society, this year’s conference featured keynote speakers like Mary Eberstadt, an author and senior research fellow for the Faith & Reason Institute; Peter Boettke, professor of economics and philosophy at George Mason University in Fairfax, Va.; and George Gilder, founder of the Discovery Institute.