Workforce Ready by Brian Lynn
Computer Science Students Tackle Real-world Challenges
They’re helping fight crime, creating unique online educational tools and developing exciting new applications for mobile devices. And they’ve yet to spend a single day at the office. As part of the senior capstone class in computer science at Eastern Washington University, students under the direction of long-time professor Steven Simmons work on real-world computer applications that are used by the university and community at large. Not only are they learning how to code, debug and deliver a product to clients on a deadline, they’re meeting and working with area professionals – people who could become future employers. The Computer Science Department instructs approximately 90 students per year and works on about 18 projects, which are split between external and internal clients with a few science projects rounding out the curriculum. “The rarest but most fun are the science projects that are sent to us,” said the now-retired Simmons, citing a program students developed for a Japanese University that helps thwart forgery by analyzing calligraphy writing. External clients include projects that require student teams to work with public- and privatesector partners as varied as Spokane County and an educational gaming company. One team of students redesigned the website for the county’s incidentreporting website, Crime Check, while another created an online game that teachers can use to deliver content and lessons to their students on a broad array of historical events.
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Internal university projects can run the gamut from dry infrastructure maintenance and database construction to more exciting application development for mobile devices and 3D gaming. Students are involved in projects that help the university teach more effectively, such as digitally cataloging faculty and class evaluations, as well as recruit the next generation of students. One group created a three-dimensional model of the university for the Visitor’s Center that is sent out on a DVD to prospective students. The digital format allows future students to explore campus from home, while giving program creators hands-on experience in the graphics and gaming world. One of the most intriguing projects came in the spring of 2012, when the EWU men’s basketball team called on Simmons’ students to develop an app for the team’s iPad that could analyze and quantify data in an effort to make better coaching decisions during crunch time. Taking a page straight out of Moneyball, a book subsequently turned into a movie starring Brad Pitt about Oakland Athletics General Manager Billy Beane’s approach to statistical analysis of players in fielding a team, the basketball team and Computer Science Department teamed up to create an application for ingame tracking of squads of players. A group of senior capstone students consisting of Jeff Butler, William Clark, Michael Holcomb, Kylie Martonik and Samwel Sitienei accepted the challenge