Horizons make-a-thon bridges STEM and art

Members of the Horizons team, part of HexLabs, work to provide students at Tech with opportunities to develop their creativity. Their make-a-thon will be hosted on March 12-13 on Tech’s campus. // Photo courtesy of HexLabs

While Tech students work on their physics homework or learn how to integrate, they may not realize that their technical education can be applied to more creative projects. 

Horizons, a make-a-thon event hosted by the student-run nonprofit organization HexLabs, hopes to bridge this gap. Horizons will take place from March 12–13 on Tech’s campus.

“I’m particularly fascinated by the intersection of art and technology, which is what drew me to help direct Horizons – a 24-hour art and technology make-a-thon that serves as a platform for people to express themselves through art while using technology to augment its impact and welcomes a diverse range of projects and majors,” said Shirling Xu, second-year CS and co-director of Horizons. 

Similar to a hack-a-thon, which would involve software development, a make-a-thon is focused on collaboratively designing and building a project in a short timespan. 

“It’s a fun and relaxed version of a hackathon, so students have the opportunity to try out new technologies and materials to build anything they want,” Xu said.

This year, there will be two tracks that participants can work under, digital or physical. Additionally, there are four challenges their projects can address: Sustainability, Educational, Storytelling and Music Tech. 

While working on their projects, participants in Horizons will have access to a wide array of resources. 

“Horizons will be hosted at the Instructional Center and Mason Building, so students can take advantage of those spaces and the materials we provide to make their projects,” Xu said. “Materials include acrylic paint, cardboard, wood, metal and more. We’ll also be working with the Hive and Invention Studio, so students will have access to Peer Instructors and mentors.”

There will be a range of events and workshops. 

“When our participants are taking a break from their projects, they can come hang out with fellow makers, paint tote bags, fold origami and even make terrariums,” Xu said. “We’re also offering workshops that teach students how to design with Figma, build with React and code digital art with p5.js.”

Participants will work on a team of up to four people to complete a project. 

“Collaboration is absolutely key to making the best ideas come to life,” Xu said. “Each person has their own unique perspectives and skill sets that they can share with others … Working on a team for a make-a-thon fosters a growth mindset because everyone can try something new and learn from each other.” 

Xu pointed out how important this growth mindset, combined with hands-on experiences, is to making new and innovative solutions. Xu herself has always been interested in the intersections of science and art, and often makes art through various mediums. 

“Combining my creative and technical sides to work on projects in the sustainability and education spaces is super meaningful to me,” Xu said. “… I’m motivated to tell a story through my artwork, touching on important themes such as culture and identity. I’m also currently writing a book about the ethics of science and technology for high school students, which is something I’m very excited about.”

She believes creativity is a skill that can be cultivated. 

“By investing time into exploring the real-world applications of art and technology and just tinkering around, I think anyone can become more creative. It all starts with a good idea, and then it flourishes into something more,” Xu said. “… Personally, I can’t imagine STEM without art because creativity is the foundation of any ground-breaking technological or scientific innovation.”

Besides the Horizons event next weekend, HexLabs will be hosting an environmental make-a-thon in the fall, thanks to Xu’s efforts to add an event focusing on developing solutions to environmental issues. HexLabs also hosts HackGT, an annual 36-hour hackathon. 

For students who are interested in getting involved, registration for Horizons is open until March 4 and is free. Anyone who is a Tech student, or a Georgia university student 18 years or older, can attend the event. 

“It’s a one-of-a-kind experience, so come out and make some stuff with us,” Xu said. “Not only do we have free food and swag, but you can also meet a bunch of cool people and win prizes.”
To learn more and register for the event, visit horizons.hexlabs.org.