SPARC: Side Projects for Advancement, Refinement and Collaboration

MCIT Online attracts lifelong learners from all different industry backgrounds to learn the skills necessary to succeed in the technology sector. While undergoing this transformation, it is essential that students showcase their new technical skills and abilities to future employers in addition to rich transferable skills from past academic and professional experiences. Side projects act as a reliable measure for employers to assess your technical skills and abilities, organization/time management, enthusiasm, and creativity in this new field.

In an effort to encourage students to showcase their technical abilities to employers, MCIT Online is launching S.P.A.R.C (Side Projects for Advancement, Refinement and Collaboration), a summer-long competition designed to help MCIT Online students take their side projects to the next level. Participants will form teams of 2-4 current MCIT Online students to collaboratively create something utilizing their coding and programming skills. MCIT Online judges will review all project submissions at the end of the summer and choose 10 finalists to compete for the grand prize of $200 per person to be reimbursed toward a professional development opportunity. Below are more competition details:

Project Requirements

  • There are no hard rules for what you produce — students should feel free to propose a website, mobile app, dashboard, database, etc. Projects should rely on programming and coding skills.
    • We understand the open-ended nature of this competition can be frustrating for some students. However, what makes this competition unique is that the product does not matter as much as the project work, planning, and technical learning outcomes for each participant.
  • Be realistic in what you can accomplish as a team given the competition time frame and personal time commitments of your group. Before submitting a project, we suggest drafting and agreeing upon a timeline as a group.
  • Proposals that communicate a strong link between project achievement and personal interest and/or attention to salient current events and technical trends will have those intentions positively reflected in judging.
  • The best projects will encompass the following:
    • Students will be able to highlight a purpose of the project, the technical interventions, building process, and intended results.
    • Students will balance practicing existing skills and building new skills in the process of building this project.
    • Teams will exemplify good communication and collaboration throughout the duration of the project.

Instructions for Round 1 Proposal Submissions

Please respond to the prompt below and email your proposal to Emily Parry (eparry@seas.upenn.edu) by Sunday, April 4th, 11:59 PM EST. Proposals should not exceed 3 pages in length. We will be using a blind judging process to review proposals. Please do not include any team member names in the proposal document, but do list all team members’ names and emails in the body of your email to Emily.

  1. Describe your project in 300 words or less.
    1. What problem will this project address and how?
    2. Why is this project important to your team?
    3. What are your desired outcomes?
  2. What technology will be utilized to create the project?
  3. How many hours per week will your team commit to working on this project? Describe your projected meeting schedule.
  4. What technical skills do you already possess that will help you complete this project, and which skills are you hoping to build on or learn throughout the building process? Each team member should contribute 2-4 sentences to this answer. Instead of listing your names and learning outcomes, distinguish individuals by naming yourselves Team Member 1, 2, 3, 4.


  • Must consist of 2-4 current MCIT Online students.
  • Why can’t I compete as an individual? — The tech industry is immensely collaborative, and we want to simulate an environment where students are problem-solving and communicating as a team to build and develop solutions.
  • Join us for an optional team-forming-mixer where students will exchange ideas to find partners for potential collaboration. Save the date for Wednesday, March 24th at 2 PM EST. Details to follow.


Dr. Tom Farmer — Senior Lecturer for Computer and Information Science & Electrical and Systems Engineering

Brandon Krakowsky — Lecturer for Computer and Information Science, Research & Education Director for Wharton Customer Analytics

Mohammed Javad Amiri — Postdoctoral research for the University of Pennsylvania Department of Computer and Information Science

How do I choose a project?

  • Start close to home — think about problems you wish you could solve or processes you wish you could improve that would directly impact your life.
  • Find a balance between novel and familiar. Students should not feel pressured to create the next great invention, but judges also want to see unique aspects of your creations. Be sure to highlight the things that make your project stand out in your description in the submission form.
  • Explore projects in existence to get inspired — check out the sample projects in this guideline, surf student LinkedIn and Handshake profiles to see which projects they choose to share with employers and how they describe them, and check out Opensource repositories.
  • Join Emily Parry on Monday, March 22nd at 8 PM EST as she hosts a session dedicated to discussing how to start a side project. Register in advance for this session here.

Sample Projects

Last year we asked students to pitch their project ideas to their peers to form teams and work on them over the summer. Below are three sample projects that were pitched:

  1. A software hub designed to help managers who oversee remote employees. The software would help give managers the full picture of employee hiring, pay, and performance. Planned to build using full stack Javascript.
  2. A mindfulness app that would ping users with text messages to help them label their feelings, identify sticky thoughts and feelings, and move to a more productive state of mind. Planned to use Django.
  3. A web page & mobile app designed to gamify operations training. The web page and mobile app would demonstrate a sample service business and users would implement training concepts to optimize the business.

Round 1 Timeline – Submitting a Project Proposal

  • Project Submission Deadline — 11:59 PM EST, Sunday, April 4th
  • First Round of 10 finalist teams announced — Monday, April 19th

Round 2 Timeline – Submitting your Final Project

  • Finalists will have from Monday, April 19th to the submission deadline on Sunday, August 1st to work on their projects
  • Final submission deadline — Sunday, August 1st — Finalists submit a pre-recorded video (20 minute duration time maximum) of their final projects to the judges
  • Grand prize winner announced — Friday, August 13th


The grand prize for the team that wins the SPARC Competition is $200 per person to be reimbursed toward a professional development opportunity.


Professional Development Opportunities to be Redeemed for Prize Money
MCIT Online will reimburse $200 to each individual from the winning team to be used for a professional development opportunity. Students can utilize prize money for any of the following conference registration fees or interview preparation support resources. Travel and other expenses incurred for conference participation are not eligible for reimbursement. The costs listed below are based on past registration fees. Be sure to check out the most up-to-date conference costs associated with each individual event when reviewing your registration options. If you have a conference you are interested in attending that is not on this list, feel free to forward the event details for MCIT Online approval to Emily Parry (eparry@seas.upenn.edu). Conference registration fees related to computer science topics will be considered for prize money redemption. Students must claim their prize money between August 13th, 2021 and October 1, 2022.

  • Grace Hopper Conference — $150 student registration fee
  • TAPIA — $100 student registration fee
  • oSTEM — $100 student registration fee
  • PyCon — $125 student registration fee
  • RubyConf — $400 registration fee
  • DefCon — $300 registration fee
  • BlackHat — ~$3500 training fees
  • Strange Loop — $450 student registration fee


Interview Preparation Resources (Prices are subject to change based on the provider. Be sure to check with the individual source for the most up to date pricing)

  • Leetcode Premium Subscription — $159 yearly subscription
  • Interview Query Subscription — $229 yearly subscription
  • Interview Cake Subscription — Full course– $249
  • Cracking the Coding Interview — $25


SPARC Symposium

At least one representative from each finalist team will be required to attend the SPARC Symposium on Friday, September 24th to showcase their project to all MCIT Online students. Students who do not make it to the final round of the competition will be invited to prove the judges wrong, and if you have a project to showcase at the end of the summer, we would love to have you show it off at this event.