One of the reasons I was so excited to join the Technology, Innovation and Education (TIE) cohort at the Harvard Graduate School of Education (HGSE) was the opportunity to “innovate” – whatever that meant. I arrived on campus from a profession where uniformity and standards are, understandably, of the utmost importance in order to make sure every patient receives the standard of care. As a medical student, solving a problem through divergent thinking was a new prospect for me, one that made me light-up with childish glee when I found out that I could try out this “innovation” thing in education through the Harvard Innovation and Ventures in Education (HIVE) group.

I joined HIVE and got involved as a Hackathon Tri-chair. My partners and I drew from prior Hackathon events that had given students opportunities to congregate with like-minded individuals and dream up solutions never seen or done before. We wanted to curate an experience in-line with why most of us had chosen to come to HGSE in the first place; to “Learn to Change the World”.

A poster announcement and several emails later, we were ready to launch the first of a 3-day event. A few moments after introducing the event, my Tri-chair partner took the stage to help facilitate a co-mingling experience for our student innovators. She was like a Chemist, working the room like a beaker, and her mic, a Bunsen burner – catalyzing reactions hopefully leading to magical ideating moments for all our participants.


I had to do a bit of innovating myself during the session. A few students were getting lost and having trouble finding their way around. So I drew a live on-screen map to help them navigate through the activity. All our work paid off. On the final day of the Hackathon, our incredible innovators came together to try to convince two judges that their ideas for helping educators in resource-limited countries, helping students with test anxiety, or using an app to connect strangers in different parts of the world through a multi-media pen-pal experience, had promise.

I walked home that night exhausted, but satisfied. Our team had created a safe space for the participants to express their creativity and have fun while solving a diverse set of education issues. I’m definitely planning to take the underlying ideas behind Hackathons and innovation with me to clinics, hospitals, classroom, group projects, and my own personal life.

Dream on, innovators.

Blog post written by Joshua Onyango; photos provided by Joshua Onyango

Josh Onyango headshotBorn in Arusha, Tanzania, Josh has spent most of his life in the mid-west and southern US. He studied Biomedical Science in college and went to medical school in North Carolina. He’s still a medical student there, but decided to take a year to learn more about the role of technology in educating patients and training young physicians through the TIE program at HGSE. Outside of school he enjoys playing video games, basketball, and pondering the meaning of life.

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