Campus News

High school students who gathered in Lethbridge, Edmonton and Calgary for a weekend-long virtual reality (VR) development competition can’t be blamed for not knowing what they were getting into. After all, there has never been an event quite like Hack and Seek: Alberta XR Career Quest.

“You are part of history,” event organizer Mike McCready, who leads Lethbridge College’s Spatial Technologies Applied Research and Training (START) Centre, told the teens on Sunday. “You can say, ‘I was there at the beginning.’”

Hack and Seek is a hackathon— a gathering of people who work collaboratively to create a computer program — and the first held across Alberta simultaneously at Lethbridge College, Bow Valley College in Calgary and NAIT in Edmonton. About 50 high school students working in teams were challenged to create a VR application to address a health-related issue.

The students were given the task Friday afternoon, quickly merged into teams (whether with people they knew or with strangers) and got to work. The public could catch key moments via a YouTube live stream.

The students’ experience with 3D computer modelling, design and coding varied from some to none at all, but with help from experts at all three sites, all the teams brought their visions to life.

Impressive results

"It's really nice to see that we were able to create a decently polished game in such a short amount of time,” said Jeremy  Rondeau, a Grade 10 student from Lethbridge-based francophone school, École La Vérendrye. “I didn't know anyone here. I just went in a random group, and it was really fun, honestly.”

Many of the students said they hope to come back for next year’s Hack and Seek, which McCready says will be held May 2-4, 2025.

Rondeau and Magrath High School students Hunter Coleman and Patrick Cahoon were singing the event’s praises even before they were announced as the winners of the Lethbridge event, sharing a prize of $3,000. Their project, Immune Systems Management, immersed the user inside a view of the human body, where the heart was under attack by viruses. The player could destroy the viruses, and preserve their health, using a virtual sword and medical kit.

Judges donned virtual reality headsets to try their hands at the student-created games.

“I’m really impressed,” said Allyson Cikor, one of the Lethbridge judges. They all had design and multiple elements for interaction. It’s incredible to actually have made something that worked!”

Coleman said the event appealed to his interest in virtual reality. “It seems so mysterious, like it needs more exploration.”

Seeing the possibilities of VR

While he saw VR primarily as a tool for entertainment, the event gave him a new perspective on the technology’s possibilities.

“It’s a different way to experience things,” he said. “It's like looking at life from a whole new angle.”

Noah Lyons was the youngest competitor this weekend at just 13 and nearing completion of Grade 11 at Westwind Alterative High School and Raymond High School. He’s been working on 3D development and modelling for a few years out of his own interest and with help from mentors in the industry.

Lyons and his teammates, also from Westwind, built Walking Simulator: Zen Forest Edition, showcasing the benefits of an outdoor walk or run. The goal was “to care about yourself more, and to see the beauty of nature.” The team earned third place in Lethbridge and a $1,000 prize.

McCready said the hackathon isn’t just a showcase of technology. Students demonstrated critical thinking, communication with teammates and logic. They had to problem solve and know when to ask for help.

“I’m very impressed with the end results,” McCready said. “The projects had almost a polish to them, and you wouldn’t expect that in just a couple of days. When we took meal breaks, they were just inhaling their food. They were wanting to get back to work on their projects. They really enjoyed what they were doing.”

A chance to learn new skills

Minet Sonnenberg, a Grade 11 student from Chinook High School, received the Rising Star Award in Lethbridge recognizing resilience and enthusiasm. She said she didn’t know what to expect when she signed up for Hack and Seek, but she’s glad she took the risk.

“The help here was really good,” she said. “They had a lot of volunteers who knew how to use everything. I was able to make everything because they showed me how.”

The result was an app to improve mental health and reduce stress through “conquests” like planting a flower in the forest. Sonnenberg started the weekend with no game-creation experience. “I’m pretty proud of it, honestly.”

Lyons, who spent the weekend doing 3D modelling – a skill he came in with – says he’d like to learn more about coding if he gets the chance to compete in Hack and Seek again.

"If you're interested in technology, design, or even the film industry, this would be a great event to come to,” he said.

Hack and Seek: Alberta XR Career Quest was presented by Lethbridge College and Stringam Law, in partnership with Bow Valley College, NAIT, Alberta Innovates, Digital Alberta and sponsors. If you’re interested in VR, check out Lethbridge College’s Virtual and Augmented Reality Certificate program. Applications are being accepted now for September.

Congratulations to our hackathon winners

Bow Valley College

  • Rising Star: Luke Salonka
  • 3rd Place Team: Geith Amum, Stijn Rehorst, Cyril Payne
  • 2nd Place Team: Luke Salonka, Henyrk Weissenberger, Alexander Ng, Gabriel Kadri
  • 1st Place Team: Nate Greco, Laksh Vadbheru, Nicholas Huang, Jack Briggs

NAIT

  • Rising Star: Rehan Basra
  • 3rd Place Team: Dante Ramierez Diaz, Kaden Astles, Sacha Gauchier
  • 2nd Place Team: Anna Chubakha, Antonina (Tonya) Lazarenko, Jack Juitor
  • 1st Place Team: Banaj Bhasin, Dante Fecteau, Noah Elle, Braden Leduc

Lethbridge College

  • Rising Star: Minet Sonnenberg
  • 3rd Place Team: Noah Lyons, Taylor Blackmore, Koehn Cornish
  • 2nd Place Team: Cooper Horne, Aiden Israelson, Eduardo Mezzadri
  • 1st Place Team: Hunter Coleman, Patrick Cahoon, Jeremy Rondeau

1st Place Team: Hunter Coleman, Jeremy Rondeau, Patrick Cahoon, 


 

2nd Place Team: Eduardo Mezzadri, Aiden Israelson, Cooper Horne


 

3rd Place Team: Koehn Cornish,Taylor Blackmore, Noah Lyons