Alabama Power Foundation, Blacks in Energy Chapter hosts HBCU Hackathon in Birmingham

Students from two of Alabama’s historically black colleges and universities faced off in friendly competition last week to come up with creative solutions to difficult problems in the first-ever HBCU Hackathon.

Hosted by the Birmingham chapter of the American Association of Blacks in Energy (AABE) and the Alabama Power Foundation, the event pitted four teams from Alabama A&M University and Tuskegee University in a battle that culminated with the teams pitching their ideas to a panel of judges in front of a live audience.

The teams had three weeks to formulate their ideas, brainstorm potential solutions and put together presentations before the pitch event at Alabama Power’s headquarters in Birmingham. Teams were scored on the creativity, innovation and potential impact of their ideas and how well they delivered their presentations. On the table: a prize of $6,000 for first place and $4,000 for second place.

Tuskegee University’s Hack N Parlay team took home the runner-up award. (Desmond Wilson)

Employees from Alabama Power and Alabama-based Southern Company and Southern Nuclear employees served as coaches for the students. Students met with trainers at least once a week to prepare their 10-minute presentations. Students could consult the projects with academic advisors.

Hackathon judges and volunteers consisted of employees and managers from Alabama Power, Southern Nuclear and Southern Company, as well as leaders from Georgia Power and the University of Alabama at Birmingham.

During the event, students participated in speed networking sessions and panel discussions with energy experts from participating companies.

A student participates in a speed networking session at the HBCU Hackathon. (Desmond Wilson)

“One of the purposes of the American Association of Blacks in Energy is to encourage African-American students to pursue careers in the energy sector,” said Ernest Burnley, president of the AABE Birmingham Chapter and manager of Southern Nuclear.

“Our chapter is invested in our HBCU students,” Burnley added. “This was an opportunity for Tuskegee University and Alabama A&M University students to highlight their talents and gain exposure to new careers and energy professionals.”

Alabama A&M’s “The Maroon 5ive” team won first place for their proposal to solve persistent wastewater problems in Lowndes County, where municipal sewer systems do not reach the homes of many poor black families and septic systems are unaffordable. or they don’t work well. The team designed the installation of small chemical package systems and the innovative deployment of polyvinyl chloride (PVC) piping to treat water and improve drainage.

Tuskegee’s “Hack N Parlay” team took second place with an idea to identify and solve air pollution problems in underserved communities of color. It proposed the creation of a Pollution Identifier Network (PIN) – a series of pollution sensors on commercial buildings, traffic lights, homes and cars that would measure ambient air quality and provide real-time data to regulators.

Southern Company Manager Jonique Parker offers insights during a panel discussion. (Desmond Wilson)

Margaret White, manager of community initiatives at the Alabama Power Foundation, delivered opening remarks at the pitch event along with Jonathan Porter, senior vice president of customer operations for Alabama Power, who is a graduate of Tuskegee University.

“The Alabama Power Foundation is dedicated to investing in students attending historically black colleges and universities in Alabama,” White said. “Our support of the Birmingham Chapter of the American Black Association in the Energy Hackathon reflects our commitment to ensuring that HBCU students can achieve their career goals.”

More information about the AABE Birmingham Chapter here. Learn more about the Alabama Power Foundation at

Students and coaches pose for a group photo at the HBCU Hackathon. (contributed)


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