Over two hundred teenaged students are gathered in groups of tens, working diligently at round tables spread out all over the enormous auditorium. Each team has a mission: to find the best innovative solution to the same problem by the end of the weeklong seminar. Welcome to the IAC Eitanim Hackathon of 2018.

My name is Shir Nakash and this summer I had the honor of interning as the logistical coordinator of this wonderful organization in Los Angeles called IAC Eitanim, a unique leadership and entrepreneurship project-based program for middle and high school students. The program allows students to connect, explore, and experience Israel while preparing for college and developing professional skills.

IAC Eitanim expands students’ creativity, self-learning abilities, team-work skills, and a connection to Israel through real-world challenges while working with experts on creative ideas and innovative solutions and technologies. Middle-and-high-school students, grades 8-12, interested in developing their leadership and creativity skills while preparing for college are invited to apply at the beginning of every school year. The program includes 12 mandatory sessions and then, at the end of the school year, Eitanim holds an optional summit called the Hackathon where students have a chance to prove what they’ve learned by applying their skills to a real problem.

At the end of the Hackathon, each team has a chance to present their final product and explain the work they did to a panel of judges who are entrepreneurs and CEOs of various startups themselves. The team’s pitch has to be as bulletproof and comprehensive as any Shark Tank presentation, and it’s exciting to see them speak so proudly and passionately about the work they did.

When I was in high school, I remember feeling frustrated with the lack of practical information I was being provided in a classroom setting. It seemed to me like a lot of the work I was doing involved regurgitating memorized answers that I would forget as soon as I submitted my last paper or finished my final exam. What would I ultimately take away with me when I was done with the class? Will it have served me as more than just practice at cramming impractical knowledge for a limited amount of time?

If the above scenario sounds painfully familiar to you, you’ll understand why IAC Eitanim speaks to so many of the bright young minds I got to work with this summer. Instead of being told how to do something, they get to learn themselves by working with brilliant peers from across the country and engaging in exploration and critical thinking together.

            Once the behind-the-scenes, logistical aspect of planning such a major event was complete, my role at the Hackathon itself changed a bit. I moved around a lot in between groups and helped guide them in their process. By talking them through various tactics and strategies, they would ultimately find the best solution to the problem they were trying to solve together. I learned what it meant to be part of a team and the patience it takes to go through the tribulations of trial and error. Most importantly, I learned that failure is crucial to success; you rarely get it right on the first try, and even if you get it right, you can always make it better. It was an absolute pleasure to help provide these kids with a setting where I could see them thrive as they tested their abilities and watched their conceptual ideas spring to life.