Coding Davidson: New Program Empowers Students to Address Campus Needs

Lucy Walton-

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Web Development Fellow John-Michael Murphy ’16 hopes to grow the coding program. Photo by Maya Eggert

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Web Development Fellow John-Michael Murphy ’16 (L) mentors student coders like Julian Bertini ’19 (R) as they combat campus problems with their computer science experience and teamwork. Photo by Maya Eggert

Technology is an integral part of any workplace today, and a few Davidson students are preparing by gaining some unique skills with the Information and Technology Services (ITS) student coding program. Jose Balcazar ‘19, Kyle (Mutian) Chen ‘19, and Julian Bertini ‘19 are working with Web Development Fellow John-Michael Murphy ‘16 to use coding to bring solutions to campus problems.

ITS decided to create a program that works alongside the Mathematics and Computer Science Department to prepare students for the workforce by teaching them valuable, technology-related skills. The program began last year, accepting applications on Handshake and communicating with interested students.

Murphy leads the students through their processes. His job is to help the student coders decide on projects and work them through the solutions.

He explained that ITS’s goal is to create a group that would help students build up an impressive portfolio of projects, while working with innovative technology. He says he hopes to “teach students the language of industry today.”

The students work in what are called “sprints.” This is a method through which students quickly code a project during a four-week period with a “work quickly, fail fast” mindset. Murphy elaborated on this, explaining that the focus on getting a final prototype and working quickly helps the coders figure out what things fail so they can move on to the next idea. They work on the prototype first, and then determine if it is still a viable project that meets college needs. Then they work out the kinks and make it available for use.

Balcazar, one of the student coders, discussed his academic journey. He fell in love with coding as a sophomore and is now a computer science and math double major. Balcazar decided to get involved with the coding group because he “wanted to get some more practical experience from what I had learned thus far in my computer science class[es].” He is also dedicated to “work on a project that would be of use for Davidson students.”

Although Balcazar had coding experience coming into the program gained from coursework, he has practiced applying technical skills and coding languages such as Java, Python, and Ruby. Through the projects, he has also learned practical life skills, like working efficiently with a partner or group and logically breaking down a problem.

Balcazar has already made an impact on campus with his work through other projects. Over the summer he collaborated with Lula Bell’s under the direction of Dr. Laurie Heyer to create the website that Davidson students can now visit to see what supplies, food, textbooks, and clothing items are available for rent. The summer 2017 team, who built the Lulabell’s web page, consisted of Jose Balcazar, Andre Hidalgo (from CPCC), Hermon Mulat, and Anubhav Roy Battacharya. All four members of the team worked full time for 10 weeks to build this app. The website helps students find what they need and also helps Lula Bell’s staff keep inventory organized. This project was a part of Project PRONTO, in its third year and designed “to improve the student experience and help campus and off-campus organizations with teams of student developers” according to Dr. Laurie Heyer, who notes that the project was funded through her John T. Kimbrough professorship and support from the President’s office

This website was Balcazar’s favorite project thus far, and inspired him to continue working in coding teams.

Balcazar is grateful for his coding experiences, explaining that they will help him in the future. “I feel more confident in the possible situations that may come [in which] all I am given is a goal and no other instructions, that I will still be able to accomplish what is put in front of me,” he commented.

He also notes how his interpersonal skills were strengthened through working in this team to solve problems, and says he hopes those skills will help him “work more efficiently and closely with future team members,” both at Davidson and in the world beyond.

Currently, the student coders are working on a program that will allow Davidson students to reserve coveted study spaces in the library and potentially in other buildings. If successful and approved, it will soon go into effect.

Though the program started with a small group, there is always room to grow. The next cycle of applications will officially open next year.

Murphy noted that the nascent program is a great opportunity for students to learn new things, prepare for the workforce, and enjoy themselves. He encourages Davidson women especially to get involved with the coding program, as ITS is looking for ways to better promote women in technology.

If students are interested in getting involved with this program before the application is released, Murphy encourages them to email him at jmmurphy@davidson.edu to express their interest.

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