Friday, July 20, 2018

Trinity students and Hartford youth develop apps for the city



Trinity is an urban college, and our location in Hartford affords us a unique opportunity to engage with the community. Whether it’s Do-It Day or community service organizations, Trinity has repeatedly made efforts to get out into Connecticut’s capital to serve and to learn.

Over this past summer, however, two Trinity students decided to take the old paradigm a step further, and actively contributed to the infrastructure and accessibility of the city, touching the lives of everyone from local high school students to the mayor. Christine Boyle ’15, and Kenneth Thomas ’17, along with Professor Ralph Morelli, embarked on a project for the summer in which they taught local high school students about a computer program known as “App Inventor”, a simple drag-and-drop programming language, to create apps.

The results were six useful apps created by Boyle and Thomas, with help from a group of 20 high school students which are now in use across Hartford, everywhere from on the street to the mayor’s office.

The project came about as a result of an SF Grant given to Ralph Morelli, a computer science professor here at Trinity. With the money, Professor Morelli, Boyle, and Thomas created a curriculum known as “Mobile Computer Science Principles “, which dealt in the design of apps for tablets, mobile phones, and other portable electronics. The curriculum launched in several high schools around the Hartford area, funded by Trinity, the city of Hartford, and the SF Grant money, and met with success.

Twenty “interns” volunteered to spend six weeks of their summer coding apps at the behest of different organizations around Hartford. Interestingly, the project started out as pure volunteering, with Boyle, Kenneth, and their band of teachers and students contacting organizations to see what they needed. By the end, however, they had made a name for themselves, and organizations were actively seeking out their help, and giving them detailed orders for their app designs. The volunteer project had become something entirely different, almost a software company in its own right.  The job was demanding; interns and lead developers alike were putting in full nine-to-four days, and there were often guest speakers and college admissions representatives present to meet the interns and watch the project unfold. People from IBM and other tech companies visited, and the creator of “App Inventor” even Skyped in for a guest lecture.

Not only had the developers impressed their clients, they had also turned out some equally impressive products. As mentioned, there were six apps developed by this team, each for a different organization, and each with its own unique purpose:

Under the purview of Thomas, two different apps were produced for youth services, and one for a local theater:

App 1.  This is a catalog of youth services offered in Hartford, with search functionality, and contact information for all of the different organizations.

App 2. RiseUp, a Hartford youth empowerment organization, requested an app to detail their programs, include contact information, as well as services offered by the organization.  Interestingly, the first two apps were originally supposed to be one, but RiseUp felt that their app required different parameters.

App 3. The last of the apps produced under Thomas, TheaterWorks was designed for a playhouse in downtown Hartford. The app featured an interactive seating map, as well as the theater’s full website, with a full complement of social media plugins.

Boyle took the lead on two of the other apps.

App 4.  “Hartford Area Tour”, sponsored by the Old State House downtown, organizes Hartford by neighborhood, then creates tours for clients based on a survey of interests. It is analogous to a “Pandora” for the city of Hartford.

App 5. “Rewards 4 YOU” was designed on behalf of the Hartford Public Library, for use in the “YouMedia” space of the library, an up-and-coming youth department.

The app would allow visitors to scan a code posted on the wall, and for each day a scan was done, a point would be added to a library account in the name of the visitors. Points can be cashed in for prizes, ranging from headphones to candy and flashdrives. The hope of the program is to encourage usage of the youth areas of the library, and increase usage of the library overall.

The final app’s development was spearheaded by one of the local high school teachers who adopted the “Mobile Computer Science Principles” curriculum, Joe Kess. This app is arguably the most influential of all.

App 6. The mayor of Hartford himself contracted this final app, which was designed to replace the information kiosk in City Hall. The app has maps of the convoluted interior of the building, as well as a directory with voice-recognition software, which allows people to look up where they might go with a particular question or issue. The app then gives detailed directions to whatever location is pertinent to the client’s request. Should a visitor so desire, the app also has a function that will send a text or voice message directly to the mayor, putting him in somewhat better contact with his constituents.

These apps, in addition to being highly sought-after, have also met with acclaim. The mayor and many newspeople attended Boyle and Thomas’ final presentation, and the apps are being used to this day.

Many students have taken their studies into the real world, and effected tremendous good in the lives of people across the world. Such initiative being taken at Trinity has certainly been helpful: Hartford’s schools gained an interesting new curriculum, twenty young men and women gained valuable working experience and a potential career path, and numerous organizations around Hartford gained valuable apps, some of which are helping the public facilities of Hartford, a benefit that everyone in Hartford can enjoy.

One Response to Trinity students and Hartford youth develop apps for the city

  1. Thanks for the nice article about the Mobile Apps for Hartford program. Here’s a link to our website.

    I would like to point out that Pauline Lake, Trinity ’13, was the project director for this effort. She was responsible for recruiting the high school student interns (who were paid as summer employees by the City of Hartford’s Youth Services department) and the clients. So she really deserves the lions share of credit for organizing this great project, which we are planning to do again next year. Pauline has been working with Trish Torruela at City Hall.

    The apps were designed and implemented by the high school students with guidance and mentoring from Christine Boyle ’15, Kenneth Thomas ’17, and Mr. Joseph Kess, Wethersfield High School teacher.

    Here’s a link to a video that the College made of the student presentations. The Mayor’s remarks come at the 34 minute mark.

    The students had recently completed the Mobile Computer Science Principles course, a new Advanced Placement level course in computer science. The Mobile CSP project is funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF).

    Ralph Morelli
    Computer Science Department

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