St. Thomas Newsroom

Tommies, IBM, U.S. Bank Team Up For Make-a-Thon

Sophomore Megan Sharkus (center) celebrates with her teammates after they're announced the winner of the US Bank Make-a-Thon.

“Twenty minutes! If you’re not plating yet, get ready to start plating!”

Human voices mixed with those of IBM’s Watson as seven teams of St. Thomas students and U.S. Bank and IBM employees worked feverishly within the Makerspace of Anderson Student Center. They were here Tuesday and Wednesday for the U.S. Bank Make-a-Thon, creating ways to apply the technology of IBM’s TJBot – an open-source project that connects Watson services – to the challenges of finance management for college students.

A sample bot sits on a table during the US Bank Make-a-Thon on September 19, 2017 in the Makerspace in the Anderson Student Center in St. Paul.

“It’s been a lot of fun. There have been a lot of challenges I didn’t expect,” said senior finance major Moise Igeno, whose team used TJBot to create an alert system to notify students what on-campus opportunities for free food at events align with their interests. “It’s nice to get out of the classroom and work with professionals in this field.”

Some 40 people between students and U.S. Bank and IBM employees were divided among the teams, all vying for the prize of being deemed the best use of Watson technology. Ideas ran the range from a bot dedicated to managing expenses involved with multiple roommates sharing a house; visual recognition and interaction with people going into your fridge; and managing students’ accounts tied to their dining service options on campus.

“Hello, who am I speaking with?” began one interaction with House Buddy, that bot dedicated to assisting roommates. “Gavin.” “Hello, Gavin, how was class?” “Class was good. What bills do I owe?” “Your rent is due today. Would you like me to pay it for you?” “Yes, thank you.”

“It’s fun to come in and see the ideas and people’s excitement as they see these technologies,” said Greg Gorman, director of IoT Developer Ecosystem. “Our job is to show people the possibilities with this advanced technology and get them excited about it.”

U.S. Bank sponsored the event and selected the area of tackling challenges associated with college finances.

“Being able to use the Makerspace and getting students involved is great,” said Kari Shotley of U.S. Bank. “It’s really just getting the right band together here … to come up with the lofty ideas that might stick or influence what we do down the line.”

Opus College of Business – which also sponsored the event – Dean Stefanie Lenway was one of four judges, who awarded the group of Breaking Bot the top prize for their application of TJBot toward budgeting and breaking bad habits. St. Thomas sophomore Megan Sharkus was part of the winning group. Sharkus was featured in the Newsroom last spring and owns her own company, Expressionmed, which is dedicated to improving the education, design appeal and safety of insulin kits for children with diabetes.

A team works on its bot during the U.S. Bank Make-a-Thon on Sept. 19 in the Makerspace in the Anderson Student Center in St. Paul. Teams comprised of personnel from U.S. Bank and IBM, along with St. Thomas undergraduate students, competed during the two-day event to program an IBM TJ Bot to provide college students with financial assistance.