Given the chance to be software designers, 100 middle school students at the Ford STEAM Lab Hackathon invented a range of mobile applications to make learning easier, from catching up on missed assignments, to studying math and music through gaming – all the while earning $42,500 in awards and scholarships.

The two-day event that wrapped up Saturday challenged students from five middle schools in the Detroit metropolitan area to learn the basics of software coding, and then produce, or “hack” an application to help them in school.

“This event was designed to give students a voice in their education while learning software coding skills needed to be technology entrepreneurs,” said Shawn Wilson, manager, Multicultural Community Engagement, Ford Motor Company Fund. “What students taught us is just as valuable — utilize existing technology, develop flexible schedules so they can continue learning on their own time, and improve ways to communicate outside the classroom.”

Ford is joining with the United Auto Workers union to enable all students who participated in the Hackathon to attend free of charge a summer software coding class offered by Henry Ford College. The one-week long course will be held at the school’s Dearborn campus. During the class, students will build their own Android apps from scratch and experience how they are placed on the Google Play market.

Participating schools and the Hackathon results are:

  • First Place – Patrick Henry Middle School, Woodhaven, Mich.

    App: Second School. What it does: Allows students, parents, and teachers access to students’ curriculum away from the classroom, ability to track their school progress in real time, and one-to-one communication between parents and teachers.

    Winnings: $15,000 for the school and $2,500 scholarships to each of the five team members to continue their education after high school.

  • Second Place – Clippert Academy, Detroit.

    App: Bookctionary. What it does: A mobile reading assistance application focused on interactive reading comprehension through quizzes, audio assistance, and eBook downloads.

    Winnings: $7,500 for the school.

  • Third Place – Simpson Middle School, Flat Rock, Mich.

    App: Stems Root Builder. What it does: A learning application focused on keeping students up to date with their course work when they are out of school.

    Winnings: $5,000 for the school.

  • Fourth Place – Fisher Upper, Detroit

    App: Exstatic. What it does: An app that combines learning music and math together through a gaming and creative platform.

    Winnings: $2,500 for the school.

The event occurred at the Ford Resource and Engagement Center in Detroit, where it was part of a live broadcast by MSNBC as part of its Growing Hope series. After learning coding skills on the first day, student ideas were judged by a panel that included Van Jones, #YesWeCode founder, and environmental and civil rights advocate; Stephen Henderson, Pulitzer Prize-winning Editorial Page Editor of the Detroit Free Press and co-host of Detroit Today on WDET; and Joy Reid, national correspondent, MSNBC.

Students also heard from Big Sean, a Detroit native who has become a multiplatinum winning musician and founder of the Sean Anderson Foundation. Big Sean took a break from his tour in Japan to speak via Skype about the importance of technology and the role of the Internet in future jobs. “I can honestly say the Internet really helped me become the artist that I am today,” he said.

Ford STEAM Lab, an educational program from the Ford Motor Company Fund, works to spark student passion for technology entrepreneurship and careers in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). To produce the hackathon Ford collaborated with:

  • #YesWeCode, an Oakland, Calif.-based organization that targets low-opportunity youth and provides them with the necessary resources and tools to become world-class computer programmers.

  • Level Playing Field Institute, an educational organization based in Oakland, Calif., committed to eliminating the barriers faced by underrepresented people of color in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

  • Sisters Code, a Detroit organization dedicated to helping women succeed in STEM-related fields.

  • Grand Circus, a company based in Detroit that provides training and other skills necessary to work in technology companies.

  • National Dropout Prevention Center/Network, a national organization that works on strategies to increase the graduation rate in America’s schools.

Ford Motor Company Fund, the philanthropic arm of Ford Motor Company, invests more than $8 million a year in scholarships and other education initiatives. In addition to the Ford STEAM Lab, Ford Fund educational programs include Ford Blue Oval Scholars, Ford Next Generation Learning, Ford College Community Challenge and Ford Driving Dreams Tour.