By Shehtaz Huq ’13
Six computer science seniors collaborated with New Bethany Ministries—a local nonprofit that serves the homeless, poor, and mentally ill—to create a computerized system that keeps track of its clients and the services provided to them.
“Our primary goal was to deliver a functional and flexible program that will help the people of New Bethany Ministries,” says Shannon Sullivan ’13 (Short Hills, N.J.). “Some of the things we added include capabilities to keep an electronic record of participants in NBM’s various support programs, additional options to make reporting more flexible to the dynamic standards of United Way, and various upgrades to the program that will make it more user-friendly.”
Building on work completed by Lafayette seniors last year and supervised by Ge Xia, associate professor of computer science, the collaboration has been a valuable experience in community-based learning.
“This project gave us students the opportunity to apply textbook skills in a real-world context,” says Sam Rosen ’13 (Fairfield, Conn.). “This exposure is even more significant because we, as college students, do not always get exposure to the realities other people face. Rarely do students at an undergraduate level get to work on such a project from the ground up.”
More so than the nonprofit’s beehive of activity, Sullivan is now keenly aware of the crushing reality of economic hardships that many individuals served by Bethany New Ministries experience.
“I remember when the client asked us to add an option for a postgraduate level of education due to recently serving an individual who had a Ph.D.,” she says. “When filling out the form, there was no option high enough in the education field for this person. It’s humbling to know that such hard times can befall anyone.”
From choosing their roles to interacting with staff to working on the computer program, the students executed all aspects of the project themselves.
“Working with a real client was also an added challenge, since the client’s requirements are ambiguous and change frequently,” says Sullivan. “This means that part of my job as the developer is to ensure that the client and I are on the same page and that I can deliver on the client’s expectations.”
Rosen, who will work as a software engineer in Chicago after graduation, appreciates the hands-on experience he has gained.
“From designing a new housing intake system to writing database transformation code, I think I’ve been put in situations that will directly map onto my post-college career,” he says. “What’s most gratifying, however, is knowing how excited and appreciative New Bethany Ministries was to work with us.”