It’s been nearly a year since ITS Enterprise Applications began working with Carolina students who, independently from ITS, had begun developing two apps based on information they gathered from University public information. ITS and the students found they could benefit from working together. The campus community benefits too as the collaboration enables the student developers to improve and sustain the UNC Class Finder and UNC Class Checker apps.

In this Q&A, ITS IT Director Maribel Carrion, who is responsible for supporting Student Administration applications, discusses Enterprise Applications’ work with the student developers.

 

What are the benefits to having students on the team?

Because these are student-developed apps and therefore other students will use them, they’re not seen as part of the administrative overhead. Students tend to be more amenable and appreciative of the effort. And it means that we don’t invest in providing services and solutions to students that either stop getting used when these students graduate or that the expectation is we have to pick them up and add them to our workload, which is not the intent. That’s one of the aspects I find the most interesting and exciting.

When we first proposed the idea of providing an infrastructure and platform for them to work on, ITS didn’t have one that was easily available to the students. Just this past month, the Middleware group announced a cloud platform for UNC-Chapel Hill students and other developers to be able to use. We needed an environment that they could work in that’s not quite as stringent as the one we work in, and yet we wanted to be able to keep them separate so they could do things without having to worry about breaking anything that we were doing.

What are students most surprised by when they come to work with ITS?

When we hire students and bring them into our organization, our student workers become much more aware of some of the constraints and challenges that ITS faces in ensuring that we’re keeping their information secure. We often get questions from students as to why is this such a clunky application, why can’t this application be better or change faster. Once students are exposed to how we work and why we work the way we do, they are much more understanding and are better advocates into the student community.

Does ITS have a formal program enabling staff and students to work together on technology projects?

I wouldn’t say we have a formal program that we publish and ask for students to come to us. Certainly if students reach out to us saying they’re interested in doing something or they’re doing work that they want our help with, we are always supportive and we’re supported by our leadership to work with students.

One of the conditions that we’ve established in helping these students is they’re responsible for identifying the next group of students to continue supporting these. As they graduate, they’ll pass the support of these apps to another incoming group of students. This current group of students is scheduled to graduate in 2016. So they’ll be working with us through at least one more year.

Why do you like working with students?

By working with the students, we are reminded of why we’re here, and what are the things that really drive them and what are their interests. It also helps us ensure that the work we’re doing meets their needs. At the same time, the students get to see how IT is used in a much larger scale environment that has a lot more restrictions and rules for good reasons.

Wherever they go in their future endeavors in technology, they take away an exposure to learning that they would not have had if they had not been working with us. I’m sure it helps their resumes as well.

What this has meant for us is that we have established a way we can work with students on an ongoing basis. We will not hesitate to look for bringing students in to help us with testing and tuning, and students approaching us with ideas for what things they can do. We have a much better idea of how we can go about providing data and information to them in a secure fashion.

It’s been fun. I think the best part is the students in our environment bring an energy to our team and challenge us to think differently.

Where do you see these efforts going?

I think we could look at a larger, a bit more formal structure to create a playground for those students who want to develop applications and yet have some availability of resources that they could not fund or create on their own.

If you want to inquire about a student-employee job at ITS Enterprise Applications, contact ITS at its_communications@unc.edu.

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