An opportunity to learn about the rapidly evolving blockchain technology brought about 70 students – and a few professors – to a day-long workshop at Hunt Library on Saturday, February 10.
The goal of the free event’s organizers – members of the Carolina Fintech Hub – was to provide students a basic understanding of the technology which is known most commonly for its role with Bitcoin, and to show its potential for creating secure networks for other types of transactions.
Participating students – a mix of primarily business and engineering students – also were invited to participate in the Generation Blockchain Challenge, an opportunity for students and recent graduates to carry out a complete blockchain project from its business case study to the development of a proof of concept. Participants will receive mentorship during the two-month competition and compete for cash prize awards.
“Blockchain is fascinating to me,” said William Wheeless, a junior in the Poole College of Management majoring in information technology who attended the workshop. He said he first started reading about blockchain on Reddit. Looking at it “through a business lens, the applications that can be developed through this will be revolutionary,” he said.
That is what the Fintech presenters aimed to convey through their training session and the Generation Blockchain Challenge. “We want students and others to see the innovation side, how it can impact idea generation and startups. This kind of stuff will be critical to your (students’) success because it’s transforming the business model,” said Dean A. Scharnhorst, a Fintech Hub member and assistant general counsel at BB&T’s legal department. BB&T is a lead sponsor for the Carolina Fintech Hub.
He added that while blockchain is an interesting technology, “it is not the only one,” and it has relevance for students in many disciplines, beyond IT.
“We also want to connect talent with opportunities and capital, to build an ecosystem” that will both provide career opportunities and help prepare graduates for those opportunities, he said.
Mentors will be part of the ecosystem that is being developed, Scharnhorst said, noting that the training day and competition are not isolated events. Carolina FinTech Hub will host a similar event in Charlotte for students and recent graduates interested in registering for the Generation Blockchain Challenge.
Sarah Khan, teaching assistant professor of information technology, was among the Poole College faculty members at the training session. Her students can expect to be learning more about it, as she said would be “taking it into the classroom … and start working with it.”
Khan wasn’t the only Poole College professor getting updated on the technology. Also attending the training day were Srini Krishnamurthy, associate professor of finance; Patrice Nealon, marketing lecturer; Donald Pagach, professor of accounting; Andrew Schmidt, associate professor of accounting; and Richard Warr, professor of finance and head of the Department of Business Management at Poole College.
“It was a great opportunity for students to learn about the blockchain technology and the many business applications that exist for it,” Warr said.
Atin Angrish, a graduate student in the Fitts Industrial & Systems Engineering program in NC State’s College of Engineering, came to see how he might use pubic blockchain technology for work he is doing with Dr Binil Starly at the ISE program, on development of decentralized manufacturing systems.
“The workshop seemed to be a good opportunity to understand the enterprise blockchain technologies and how they differ from public blockchain,” he wrote in an email interview after the event. “It was an interesting experience. I was able to clarify a number of questions and doubts I had regarding the finer nuances of the blockchain tech. It’s always helpful to interact with an expert on a face-to-face basis.”
In closing, the presenters reminded the participants that it was time to start thinking about the Generation Blockchain Challenge. And yes, Angrish said he is planning to participate in the challenge. Details for the competition are here.
Want to learn more about blockchain? View this BBC news feature.