Singer. Model. Medical assistant. There’s no end to what Brian Powell ’21 can accomplish as a health science major on the pre-physician assistant track who creates art in his spare time. To top it off, he also wrote a research paper on racial patient bias in healthcare.
Four innovative Pace students just won IBM’s prestigious Call for Code 2020 challenge, which unites thousands of developers to create and deploy applications powered by open source technology that can tackle some of the world’s biggest challenges. Together, Ajinkya Datalkar ’20 (MS in Computer Science), Manoela Morais ’20 (MS in Financial Risk Management), Chimka Munkhbayar ’20 (MBA in Entrepreneurial Studies), and Helen Tsai ’21 (MS in Computer Science) worked on an app code with more than 3,000 lines including more than 11.252 million lines edited or inserted—quite the feat for only four people! But how did they get started?
“We were all students at Pace when we met,” Morais told us. “[Datalkar] and I had already done other projects together, such as winning the 2019 Pace Pitch Contest.” The two were eager for their next app development challenge, and when speaking to Munkhbayar about joining the group, their project idea was launched. “I was more interested in working in the project that solves the challenges that rural farmers in Mongolia face,” Munkhbayar explained. “We planned to create something for rural household farmers.” The group, which would become known as Agrolly, added on Tsai as their web developer to handle the logistics of the website. “I was so impressed with their work,” she enthused. “When [Datalkar] asked me to join, [...] I jumped into developing.”
Like all new projects, the Call for Code challenge seemed daunting at first. Team Agrolly was tackling a real-world issue, after all, and it was no small feat for a group of only four people, who all had other responsibilities as busy professionals. “Getting inside a competition such as Call for Code is a great push for us to do our best,” Morais said. “We [...] put together a team with different backgrounds and nationalities to fight for a common enemy, which is climate change.”
That wasn’t their only challenge, however. “I am located in Mongolia while [my] other team members are located in New York,” Munkhbayar said. That’s a 12-hour time difference, for anyone who might be wondering—a challenge that Tsai initially shared. “When I joined the group, I was in Taiwan working as an intern,” she told us. “They [would] throw me some information at night, which [was] my morning, and [I’d] work on it during the day and throw it back to them at night.” That’s basically 24 hours of coding! But Tsai insisted that, “Everyone is very supportive,” and Munkhbayar agreed, adding that they overcame the time difference challenge and coordinated well with each other.
When asked about what being named finalists meant to each of them, the consensus was clear: they’re grateful, but they’re also even more committed to furthering their work on this necessary project. “Our team is in an ongoing improvement process,” Tsai said, and Datalkar agreed, adding that, “Currently, we have pilots in Mongolia and we are soon launching in Brazil. I am really looking forward to registering as a company and making this into a global product.” Munkhbayar shared that enthusiasm with her teammates, and told us that, “I personally want to revolutionize the agricultural farming sector in my country and in [the] wider scale of the Asia region.”
Morais explained that team Agrolly has a three-year plan in place, including developments to assist families across the globe. They hope to add new functionalities to their app, and continue to develop it in the years to come. “I think Agrolly has the potential to truly make a difference in people’s lives—including ours,” Morais said.
On Tuesday, October 13, IBM announced the winner of the Call for Code 2020 challenge live—and Agrolly won! They will “receive $200,000, support from IBM Service Corps and technical experts, and ecosystem partners to incubate, test, and deploy their solution,” according to the IBM report. In addition, “Agrolly will also receive assistance from The Linux Foundation to open-source their application so developers across the world can improve and scale the technology.” We’re thrilled by this news, and we look forward to all the incredible innovation these Pace Setters are set to make. Join us in congratulating them!