OREM -- Students at Utah Valley University are getting real world career experience while helping benefit several local non-profit groups at the same time. Students in a two-part information and technology services course have spent the first several weeks of summer planning and developing smartphone apps for groups like the Boy Scouts of America, the Joseph Smith Foundation, Payson City, Rock Canyon Elementary School in Provo and the accounting club at UVU.
It was up to the students in the class to seek out groups that might need their help and then come up with an idea for a smartphone app that could help that particular group.
"This was a two-course class and in the first semester students had to go out and find non-profit organizations. They looked within their sphere of friends and family and asked if there were any needs," said Kimberly Bartholomew, associate professor of information systems and technology at UVU. "They put their feelers out and found non-profits that had a need and then researched and analyzed and proposed solutions. The second semester they actually implemented the websites and phone apps."
Most of the students created apps for Windows phones and the Windows marketplace, simply because Windows gives college students free access to the marketplace, while Android and Apple don't.
There were six student groups in total. Two of the groups worked on creating products for Payson city. One group developed an app that lets pet owners register their pet online or using their smartphone, eliminating a trip to the city offices. The app also allows animal control and law enforcement officers to search the database of animals by either description or registration number in order to find a lost animal's owner and return it. The other group created a website and app the lets Payson city employees record their time worked while out in the field. Bartholomew says before the app, all employees had to go into the city offices and clock in and out and that the city was having problems with accurate time cards.
"The clients were pretty excited," Bartholomew said. "I don't know that all of them will actually implement what the students developed but the feedback was really great."
The group that worked with the Boy Scouts of America created an app to log and report troops' service hours, something that had previously been done using paper and took hours to track and report. Another group created a similar app for Rock Canyon Elementary School. The school runs a government sponsored after-school program that requires detailed attendance records to be submitted in order to get funding; teachers had been keeping track of attendance manually and then taking time to compile monthly and weekly reports to send to the government. The app the students created lets teachers take attendance and automatically send reports to the principal or to parents to let them know if their child is missing several days of class.
Another group created an app that allows accounting students at UVU to store, review and use various equations and formulas with ease.
The final group worked with the Joseph Smith Foundation creating an app that uses the foundation's extensive databases to bring church history to life. The map-based app allows users to search for historical sites, events and other important places in their area using their phone.
"We developed a phone app which has all the different things from their databases, videos, documents, historical sites and we put them into our maps each with their own special icons and as the user clicks on the icon a little bit of information about that historical site or something that happened in that particular spot will pop up," said Joe Stoddard, a senior in Information Technology at UVU. "If they want to find more information they can click the icon and go to different websites or open the video or audio from the foundations database."
Stoddard will be continuing his work with the group even though the class is technically over.
"I am working with them on my own -- our next plan is to build an app for the Android and then for iPhone," Stoddard said. "For myself I think this class has opened doors. I have always wanted to know how to build phone apps and now I think it is something worth pursuing."
Bartholomew says that regardless of whether students pursue this kind of work in their future careers the teamwork skills they developed will help them no matter what career path they choose. Stoddard agrees that the real-life experience can only benefit them in the future.
"Being able to work with a client and change your project as the client changes the requirements was a big learning experience," Stoddard said. "None of us have ever built apps before so it was a lot of just overcoming hurdles, trial and error and finding sources and people that can help us, just like in real life."
The only app that is currently available in the Windows marketplace is the one developed for the UVU accounting club.