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Student apps that make the grade

Tennis application displayed on a cell phone in someone's hand; tennis balls in the background.
Pocket Tennis app developed by the senior software engineering capstone course. Photo by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.

What do a tennis professional, The Marching Virginians, and the College of Engineering have in common?

Well for starters, each had a desire to work with Virginia Tech students on the development of an app or website to help resolve a challenge or to enhance the services they provide to their own clients. Course Instructor Rich Charles designed the course so part of the learning experience was gained by working with real stakeholders and negotiating what can and will be delivered at the end of the project. 

Early into the senior software engineering capstone course, student teams were paired up with these three clients and started to work with them to determine the best way to deliver the desired deliverables.

And completing the project is only part of the grade. The objective at the end of class is for students to have a good understanding of what a project is, what makes a successful project, and the tools and techniques they can employ to ensure projects are successful.

Pocket Tennis App

Students had a choice to split up based on the projects they wanted to work on. Reese Pounders and his team of five all had previous experience working with iOs apps and wanted to do more in this space. 

As project manager of the Pocket Tennis app, Pounders was the key point person for their client Anne Jones, the tennis professional at the Blacksburg Park and Recreation. She had reached out to Charles for an app that she and her clients could use to communicate, such as scheduling lessons, sharing feedback on the lessons in real-time, and tracking progress. 

"We decided on the structure of the app very early, so we just had to implement it, which saved us a lot of time," said Pounders. "It was also great working on an app that gave us the freedom to be creative."

Two students work with a client to develop a tennis scheduling app.
Project manager Reese Pounders and team member Ally Johnson review the latest iteration of the Pocket Tennis app they developed with Anne Jones, a USPTA certified tennis professional, to help her keep track of her lessons. Photo by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.
Login screen for tennis app, Pocket Tennis
Screenshot of the Pocket Tennis app login page.
Instructor and Client Review lesson feature.

Reaching the major checkpoints was a strong motivator for Pounders and his team. "Anytime a large portion of the app was completed we would have a meeting and everyone would get to see what was new and how it looked. It made us want to get onto the next thing as we were just excited to see each step of the process." 

As project manager, Pounders had to be mindful of the team's schedule and not overloading them on weeks where teammates were busy, as well as keeping the project organized and easy to access. "We also felt very satisfied with the work we completed when we would show Anne a demo of the app's current state and could see that the things we were designing also made sense to her," he said.

Group photo of students who developed a tennis scheduling app.
The tennis app design team, from left, Andrew White, Ally Johnson, Reese Pounders, Jake Barker, and Pau Lleonart Calvo, with tennis pro Anne Jones. Photo by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.

Banner Document Management Parsing Tool

In any given academic year, Natasha Smith, director of enrollment management in the College of Engineering, sees an upward of 10,000 documents filed into Virginia Tech's advising instance of the Banner Document Management (BDM) system for their undergraduate student records. 

These documents range from notifications of scholarships and academic standing to all of the many forms our undergraduate students will submit each year. While a third of the documents were electronic, the remaining two-thirds had to be indexed manually.

Enter COVID-19.

The College had to mobilize to convert all of the paper forms into an electronic format. "This change allowed for the possibility to bulk upload all student documents, however, it also meant an increased workload for the BDM team if they continued to offer this service," said Smith. 

Student and administrator looking at a laptop screen.
Project manager Ben Bradner reviews some of the final features of the document parser he and his team developed with Natasha Smith, director of enrollment management, for the College of Engineering. Photo by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.

Now, enter the student team led by project manager Ben Bradner. He and his team created a parsing tool to make a multi-page PDF file, and then parse it into individual student files based on student ID number, and upload the files to the BDM system in seconds. 

Smith says the integrity of the student record is that much more accurate due to the parsing tool. It has also reduced the amount of time each semester--approximately 50 hours--spent on the organization of these documents. "Benjamin and his team did a tremendous job with this project, and I could not be more thrilled with their work."

A screenshot of the admin page of the document parser tool created for the College of Engineering.
A computer science app development team poses outside.
The document parser team members, from left, Michael Wilson, Justin Maloney, Benjamin Bradner, and Isaac Oh, with their client Natasha Smith, director of enrollment management for the College of Engineering. Photo by Peter Means for Virginia Tech.

Marchin’ for Parkinson’s

For the past two years, The Marching Virginians have sponsored a fundraiser, “Marchin’ for Parkinson’s,” to raise money for the Michael J. Fox Foundation.

As the drum major, Ashlyn McDonald had insider intelligence as to the needs of The Marching Virginians. She and her team consulted with directors of The Marching Virginians, Polly Middleton and Chad Reep, about the previous fundraising efforts and how these could be shaped for the future. 

"I think this website project was a great fit for our team," said McDonald. "We were able to implement everything we planned on doing at the beginning of the semester and learned a lot along the way about both front-end and back-end development."

A student working with a client at an athletic field.
Project manager Ashlyn McDonald shares some of the features of the Marchin’ for Parkinson’s website with client Dr. Polly Middleton, director of athletic bands at Virginia Tech. Photo by Rich Charles.

McDonald added that having a large amount of freedom in their design led the team to create a website that everyone was passionate and excited about. Some of the features of the website allowed pages for the different instrument sections, allowing for donors to give to their specific band affiliations.

A screenshot of "The Trombones" fundraising section of the Marchin’ for Parkinson’s website.

As McDonald and other team members continue their graduate studies at Virginia Tech, they look forward to continuing to use the knowledge and experiences gained from this project into the real world.

Personally, McDonald looks forward to using the agile skills she learned as project manager in her professional roles as either a software engineer, mathematician, project manager, or whatever other roles the journey leads. "We haven’t really had classes like this before, so it’s nice having something where we feel like we’re really making an impact and getting to work with wonderful faculty along the way, said McDonald. 

The Marching Virginians group photo.
The Marching Virgians design team members, from left, From left, Hannah LaVigne, Brandon Sturgis, Joseph Xu, Stack (our Hokie Bird), Ashlyn McDonald, and Eles Jones with Dr. Polly Middleton, director of athletic bands at Virginia Tech. Photo by Rich Charles.

"I really liked how the students provided a tangible impact to Virginia Tech in a number of different ways, including alumni, organizations, and departments," said Charles. "They did an outstanding job gathering requirements from their customers and developing an application that addressed their very specific needs." Charles, technical lead for the Department of Computer Science, has been teaching the class since spring 2019 and will be teaching it again this semester.