By Jessica Perone, faculty consultant, CCE

As part of their senior design projects, a group of students helped local, nonprofit community partners with their computer science needs, making a difference on the computer challenges that can hamper those organizations.

Led by Ananth Jillepalli, assistant professor in the School of Electrical Engineering and Computer Science, in collaboration with WSU’s Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), the students helped on projects, such as designing food bank inventory tracking software and developing medication reminder apps and accessible software for adults with disabilities. Including a service-learning component in a computer science capstone course challenges the students to think about designing software for diverse audiences, achieving a deeper understanding of the needs of populations that are underserved, and working towards closing the gap of the digital divide (Traynor & McKenna, 2003).

The students self-selected into teams from a diverse set of nonprofit and industry partners including Community Action Center, City of Pullman Environmental Committee, Pullman Schools Pantry Program, Disability Action Center Northwest, Latah Alliance on Mental Illness, Microsoft, Pacific Northwest National Lab, Schweitzer Engineering Lab, Starlight Sonata Ventures, University of Idaho, and Millersville University.

Working with the Latah Alliance on Mental Illness (LAMI), for instance, the students designed and created a user-friendly app that reminds adults with disabilities to take their medications as scheduled. The project required the students to consider the human experience when developing their application, such as digital literacy limitations, confidentiality issues, accessibility, and financial implications.

Working with LAMI provided students with the chance to think about the experience of the user and to listen to the needs of the client, said student Shin Yamagami. Another student, Stuart Brown, said that he hadn’t known about the existence of agencies such as LAMI nor that they needed IT and computer support.

Brown learned about preferences in how to display information to make using the app more user friendly to a diverse audience and appreciated the ability to communicate directly with the agency when developing the app.

Jordan Getty said he felt a sense of pride knowing that his work will directly help people in need of support.

Researchers say that service-learning in computer science courses provides the option to enhance interpersonal skills, find personal meaning within their work, develop a deeper sense of critical consciousness, and consider the social responsibilities as software development professionals in the future (Yeh, 2010).

The Engaged Scholar

Student success through service-learning is at the heart of community engaged learning and teaching. In fact, the theoretical premise is that service-learning experiences enable students to increase cultural and social capital, deepen the understanding of course material, and gain personal growth through exploration of service-learning (Yeh, 2010).

The Center for Civic Engagement (CCE), in partnership with faculty, colleagues, and community members, look for creative models to incorporate service-learning to promote academic success. This fall the CCE’s service-learning program supported 62 sections of classes and approximately 2400 students throughout the Pullman, Global, Tri-Cities, and Vancouver campuses.

Read more about Engaged Scholars. To learn more about participating or offering a service-learning project, contact Jessica Perone.