UCSC computer science student selected into Major League Hacking’s top 50 list

Marina Lee, rising second-year computer science student

Marina Lee, rising second-year computer science student.

UC Santa Cruz computer science student Marina Lee is driven by a passion to make a positive impact in the tech community. Her outstanding dedication to bridging the diversity gap in tech through developing free, virtual STEM education programming and hosting inclusive hackathons has led to global recognition with Lee being named one of 50 top hackers of 2023 by Major League Hacking (MLH).

Each year, MLH, the official student hackathon league and the largest global early-career developer community, selects 50 hackers from a pool of over 150,000 active community members worldwide for their outstanding contributions to the tech community. Lee is the second Baskin Engineering student selected into MLH’s top 50 list in two consecutive years. 

“The MLH Top 50 spotlights the unique stories and meaningful contributions of hackers within our community,” said Mike Swift, CEO of MLH, in his note announcing this year’s top 50. “Members of the MLH Top 50 have a broad variety of backgrounds, experiences, and stories, but each makes our community stronger.”

A knack for technology

Growing up, Lee was drawn to technological ideas and concepts and would often ask her dad, an engineer, questions while he worked from home. Her first exposure to tech education was in the sixth grade when she participated in a Google-sponsored mentorship program called More Active Girls In Computing (MAGIC) that matches female and non-binary middle and high school students to female industry mentors. 

“I really enjoyed that all female and non-binary environment because it made me feel like I belonged in tech,” Lee said of the program.

After being introduced to Python programming through MAGIC, Lee was inspired to continue coding. Self-motivated to learn, she established a strong knowledge base in coding by watching online tutorials. In high school, she completed computer science and cybersecurity courses and pursued extracurricular programs that allowed her to further develop her technical skills.

One of the programs Lee participated in was the AI4ALL summer program, where she was introduced to the field of artificial intelligence and its applications. While there, she learned that many of the other attendees did not have access to computer science education programs at their high schools. Lee, who attributed much of her success and passion for tech to the programs her school district offered, became determined to find a way to deliver tech education to all students despite their location.

Making an impact in the tech community

Lee went on to found Citro Tech, an online organization dedicated to making computer science education accessible to students worldwide and inspiring more students to pursue STEM education and careers. Lee and her Citro Tech team provide free tech education content, workshops, and hackathons, reaching an online community of more than 100,000 students across 85 countries. 

Lee with her Citro Tech team packing up Citro Hacks swag to mail out.

Lee with her Citro Tech team packing up Citro Hacks swag
to mail out.

She first learned about MLH when searching for resources and support for organizing Citro Hacks, Citro Tech’s virtual hackathon.

“I joined MLH during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Lee said. “Although everything was virtual, I found the community to be very supportive and welcoming, and it was through MLH I was given the tools needed to run my own successful hackathon.”

Lee’s impact through technology doesn’t stop with Citro Tech, though. She recently created an educational music therapy app called PocketStory.

“As someone who attended and benefited very much from music therapy lessons as a child, I wanted to find a fun and engaging way to make music therapy accessible to all children,” Lee explained. “I used my childhood experiences and love for music as inspiration to drive the creation of PocketStory.”

Lee taught herself Apple iOS application development and worked with two close friends on the visual design, digital illustrations, and composition of the music.

In 2022, she was awarded a Gold Award, the highest award you can receive from the Girl Scouts organization, for her work on PocketStory. She plans to publish an updated version of the app to the Apple store soon.

Lee demoing her music therapy app PocketStory.

Building belonging

At Baskin Engineering, Lee has found a strong community of fellow designers, hackers, and female engineers. She enjoys the diversity and the many opportunities and programs available for students to exercise their technical creativity.

In her first year at UCSC, she participated in CruzHacks, where she built a platform with her friends called SlugShop that promotes UCSC student-run businesses, and joined the Creative Tech Design club and the Tech4Good Lab.

Over the next few years at Baskin Engineering, she hopes to continue participating in and leading projects with real-world impact, including finding new ways to support STEM education in the K–12 space. She also hopes to help organize and lead on-campus hackathons, inspiring more students—especially those who have been historically underrepresented in STEM—to get involved. 

“I try to remind those who face impostor syndrome that everyone starts as a beginner, and if you’re looking to learn new coding skills and meet like-minded people, hackathons are the place to go,” Lee said. “For anyone interested in participating in hackathons but are intimidated to take that first step, try signing up with a group of friends. I promise, once you put yourself out there, you will not be disappointed.”