In Fall 2021, Dean Toni Doolen worked with a group of Honors College students, who were members of the HC Leadership Circle and charged the group with finding ways to increase student engagement with the Honors College. Over the course of the academic year, the students developed a variety of approaches and ideas, and at the end of Spring term, this group agreed that one of the key issues with engagement was that students simply were not aware of events or opportunities. Doolen recalls, “One of the suggestions was that, in addition to the Monday Message, we should identify alternate means of getting information about the HC out to students. One of the ideas that was put forward was an app.”
Doolen, whose faculty line is in The School of Mechanical, Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering, turned to another group of students to move the idea forward. The College of Engineering requires students to complete a capstone project in their final year. Working on ideas submitted by companies and campus partners, students work collaboratively to design and implement a solution to a real-world problem. Doolen drew up a proposal, and four engineering students (two of whom were also HC students) took on the challenge of creating the design for an app to help connect Honors students to Honors College events, activities and opportunities. Over the course of the 2021–2022 academic year, the group conducted user studies, designed a conceptual framework and developed a functional prototype. When they presented their results at Oregon State University’s annual College of Engineering Expo, their work caught the eye of Oliver Elliott, a second-year computer science and Honors College student.
As Oliver explored the expo, looking at projects on display, the HC app piqued his interest. He reached out to Dean Doolen and proposed that, instead of outsourcing development, he could take on the programming. Oliver and Adrian Baker, another second-year computer science and Honors College student put together a proposal, which was quickly approved by the college. The pair had a clear vision. The app would serve as a resource designed by HC students for HC students. Oliver outlined the benefits of this approach: “it would be cheaper, of course, and, as honors students, we can suggest relevant features, and we know the community and can help get what the community wants out of it.”
In the summer, Oliver and Adrian set to work. They took the materials from the original design team, and they collaborated with the staff regarding their ideas. Oliver describes it as a “very flexible” relationship. “They let us design it the way we thought was best, and it worked out for the best…. [We] designed what we thought would work, the staff gave feedback, we fixed and added things, and were very collaborative.” Adrian says, “Generally, the way it worked was that it started with the Honors College requesting a feature, or we had an idea. Then Oliver developed the student interface, and I developed the administration panel so the administration could properly use those features.” Ultimately, the app’s development took about six weeks.
Throughout the process, both Adrian and Oliver hoped they would finish the project before the annual Honors College induction in September, when the incoming class is officially welcomed to the college, so new students could be invited to be the first users. Adrian and Oliver achieved their goal, and the Honors College officially launched the HC Community Connector app to promote OSUWelcome activities for new students. In the first day, the app received over 500 downloads. “This is the first time I’ve deployed something to production with a lot of users to this scale,” says Adrian. “I’ve had a couple of friends check out my projects before, but this is the first time I’ve had this many people use something I wrote. It’s slightly scary, but more exciting.”
Adrian and Oliver are continually working to improve the app. Musing on the app’s future, Oliver plans to “bring it beyond an events app” by adding a resource page that will have help students track their thesis progress, find advising information and track SLUG – the Honors College student space in Corvallis – hours. He says of his aspirations for the app, “In the future, if students keep using this, we want to keep this app open to the community, and if any other developers want to work on this in the future, we welcome that collaboration.” Doolen also has high hopes for the app. She anticipates that, for first-year students, the app will assist with community building and will foster engagement in residence halls. For second-year students and beyond, she hopes the app will be a tool for thesis work and professional development. “To me, it’s pretty cool this idea came from students and can help shape what the student experience is.”
By Jax Richards, Student Writer, Honors College
Download the Honors College Community Connector app here.
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