The Coast News Group
National Security Innovation Network's virtual hackathon, "Mad Hacks: Fury Code," had more than 500 participants. File photo
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CSUSM team wins nationwide virtual hackathon award

SAN MARCOS – A team of three California State University at San Marcos (CSUSM) students and one alumnus is one of only four groups nationwide to win the National Security Innovation Network (NSIN) virtual hackathon, which helps solve problems for the U.S. Department of Defense.

Team Synergy included three current CSUSM students – Jael Acuna, an electrical engineering major; Briana Cordova, business management; and Lemuel Johnson, applied physics – and a 2020 alumnus, Chris Morales, who founded an online menswear retailer after graduating with a degree in entrepreneurial management.

They were led by Dan Hendricks, a retired Navy captain and owner of Open Source Maker Labs in Vista.

After pitching Syn6, an encrypted, compartmentalized and intelligent three-tier cybersecurity architecture that maintains operational resilience for human-controlled and autonomous vehicles, the team received an award of $15,000 during the NSIN virtual hackathon Mad Hacks: Fury Code.

The hackathon, which took place Feb. 5-26, challenged more than 500 participants to develop technologies to help human-controlled and autonomous vehicles operate through cyber-attacks or other instances of electronic warfare.

“It was a very collaborative effort,” Hendricks said. “I like to say I’m a mentor, not an instructor. I love to work with young professionals, they have so much talent and potential, they just need a good problem and some guidance and direction.”

Cordova, a senior at CSUSM, told The Coast News that only two of the team members knew each other beforehand, but they met every single day over the three-week period via zoom and other online platforms.

“I have no tech experience at all,” Cordova said. “Jumping in, getting your feet wet and learning as much as you can, will benefit you in the long run. Being open to learning and being open to the unknown is going to help you ultimately achieve your goals.”

Hendricks said that he is proud of his team for all of the work they put in, and he encourages others to try new things, as well.

“There are a lot of people that are hesitant to try new things, or they’re afraid of failure, but that’s my mentoring role for young professionals,” Hendricks said. “My message is, go ahead and try it, it’s ok. you’ll be surprised by the outcome and what you are able to do.”

The $25,000 grand prize went to Team Distributed Spectrum, composed of three seniors at Harvard University, for a solution that will detect cyber-attacks in the radio spectrum in real-time.

The NSIN is a Department of Defense program office that seeks to create new communities of innovators to solve national security problems. It partners with national research universities and the venture community to reinvigorate collaboration between civil and military technology.