Features, Science

Coding meets volunteering: Students develop software for nonprofit organizations

Boston University’s chapter of the national organization Hack4Impact seeks to create mobile and web apps for nonprofits that have a positive social impact.

The Boston University Hack4Impact’s e-board. The BU chapter of the national organization aims to develop mobile and web applications for nonprofits as well as provide trainings on basic app development skills in efforts to have a positive social impact. COURTESY OF CICI CHEN

In addition to projects, the organization provides workshops to teach basic app development skills to new members with little to no experience, said Haidar Lafta, a junior in the College of Arts and Sciences.

“Hack4Impact is a community where a lot of students are looking to gain new skills, and we provide that from step one,” Lafta said.

Co-director of BU’s Hack4Impact chapter, Christian Mark, remembers going through this learning process during his first project with the club.

“I had a really great time being mentored by my fellow teammates, because I know that they had a lot more experience than me, but they were able to guide me through the process and really show me how to code alongside someone,” Mark, a junior in the CAS, said.

Mark said Hack4Impact was the first computer science-related club he joined at BU, partly due to his background with volunteering in high school. The club gave him a sense of community.

“I saw this as a gateway to combine my major, computer science, with working with nonprofits and volunteering,” Mark said. “I found a really good home.”

A sense of community and a history of volunteer work also contributed to co-director Roberto Rodas-Herndon’s decision to join the organization, as well as the opportunity to give back to the community through his interests.

“All of those elements of Hack4Impact contributed to it being a really cool club for me,” Rodas-Herndon, a junior in the CAS, said.

Former co-director Cici Chen, a senior in the CAS, decided to join the club as a freshman when she went to Splash and saw the members’ passion about the cause.

“Everyone was super energetic and enthusiastic and passionate about what they’re doing,” Chen said. “I thought the cause was really good, in which we actually use our knowledge and technology to help other nonprofits to make a greater impact.”

One of Chen’s projects was Foster Friends, which Chen described as “Instagram but for pets.” For this project, Chen worked on an app that connects organizations that have pets up for adoption to people who are seeking to adopt them.

“It’s the first time that the club and also myself worked on mobile apps and just seeing the simulator, or seeing the app temporarily pop up on the phone, was really cool,” Chen said.

One current project involves Kaleidoscope Village, an educational consulting firm and nonprofit that aims to “cultivate positivity” and raise awareness for the LGBTQ community, Lafta, who is leading the project said. Hack4Impact is creating an educational app with videos and learning modules to support the nonprofit’s mission.

Rodas-Herndon typically takes on a more administrative role but also worked on the Kaleidoscope Village project.

“I did really enjoy that, collaborating with others,” Rodas-Herndon said. “I also really enjoyed meeting with the nonprofit personally and noticing what they actually needed from us.”

Mark says he is seeking to create a club atmosphere “outside of the coding environment,” including team dinners. He said he is also prioritizing keeping good contact with nonprofits.

“We’re stressing the importance of having our tech leads, who actually lead the projects, make it a welcoming community for those who don’t have any experience at all,” Mark said. “We really encourage engaged learning and collaborative work within all of our software engineers.”

Students who are interested in Hack4Impact’s mission should follow the club on Instagram and sign up to join at Splash this upcoming fall.

“If you are just starting [out] with computer science and are passionate about it, we will teach you a curriculum from the very beginning,” Chen said. “Then, the next semester, you would be able to work on a full stack project and work with clients and the nonprofit.”

Lafta’s hopes for next year include seeing the Kaleidoscope Village project through to completion and welcoming a new group of students into Hack4Impact.

“One thing I’m really looking forward to … is to meet new, incoming students because it reminds me of my first day when I first joined Hack4Impact [as] a young, motivated student,” Lafta said. “Meeting new students really gives me a flashback to when I first came in, and [I] see my progress from when I first started it to now.”


  1. What a great group of kids, Is inspiring what they are doing, they all look wonderful specially the one all the way at the end with the brown pants he’s very handsome 😉

  2. Eric the terminator!

    I know the one at the end with the light brown jeans he goes to my gym, I love that kid he’s
    cool ASF