Augustana University students win global coding competition

A group of students from Augustana University in Sioux Falls recently won the 2022 Call for Code Global Challenge with their sustainability-focused app, GardenMate.

The team, consisting of Abemelech Mesfin Belachew, Manusmriti Budhathoki, Deepak Krishnaa Govindarajan and Prana Mohanty, were named finalists in the global competition and flew to New York, where they took first place. The team received $200,000 to help grow their app and will get further support from IBM, a founding partner of the competition.

The group’s app serves as a marketplace where people or organizations with gardens can sell or give away any extra produce they have to individuals nearby. Additionally, the app provides information for gardeners about topics like how to grow certain plants.

According to Belachew, the idea for GardenMate came about from their faculty advisor, Augustana business professor Matthew Willard, who saw that gardens on the university’s campus needed a way to avoid wasting produce.

“The app that GardenMate came up with grew out of some of the gardens that we have here,” said Augustana professor David O’Hara, director of the university’s environmental studies program. “They came up with a way of making those gardens and other people’s gardens more efficient and making sure that the food that would have been wasted otherwise goes to benefit people who are lacking food.”

While most of the group members are in fields like business and computer science rather than environmental studies, members of the group have personal experiences with gardening and its hurdles. Both Budhathoki’s and Belachew’s families have gardens of various sizes.

“We make so much pepper that sometimes we’re like, ‘I guess I don’t know what to do with this,’” Belachew said. “We came from our background and saw what people were doing.”

The group started developing the app at the beginning of the summer, and they participated in various smaller competitions along the way.

Belachew said he and his teammates worked on the app for hours a day in their dorms, often on top of full-time jobs and internships. Despite the challenges, they persisted.

“We gave our very best,” Belachew said. “I believe we gave our everything.”

Much of that time was focused on developing the code for the app and designing the interface.

Going forward, the group’s goal for the app is to improve the technology that it offers, such as adding a feature that uses artificial intelligence to tell gardeners what kind of plants they have based on a picture. For coding, they’re also working on improving the app’s payment system and location tracking.

At a celebration for the group’s accomplishment, Willard said winning this award has “changed the trajectory” of their lives. Many of the group members said they’re still shocked they won and that it still feels surreal.

The success of this year’s team adds to last year, when Augustana students made up part of a group that was a finalist in the 2021 Call for Code University Challenge.

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