Students now have access to university news and information straight from their smartphones, thanks to a group of computer science students. “The Forest” app, the first official app for the university, is currently available to download from the Apple app store for iPhones and Google Play for Android devices for free.
Designing the app began in the fall of 2013 when then-seniors Nick Barlow, Vova Budnichenko, Austin Drummond, Erdal Kulgu and Luc Sedwick decided a mobile app would best benefit the campus community. Current senior Sydney Frandsen joined the project spring semester.
“Every year the [computer science] seniors have the opportunity to bring their skills together they have learned over the course of their college education by collaborating on a project,” Drummond said. “We narrowed the potential projects down to a few, then voted on what we wanted to work on most. A mobile app won our votes and gave us a chance to give back to the campus. We had all the pieces on our team to make it happen.”
The group met during a normal three hour credit class period to work on the app. They originally had 20 ideas for the new app.
“The goal of the app was to bring HU students’ work on campus into the pocket of their peers. Some of the features made it while others didn’t,” he said. “The feature set at launch was the bare minimum feature set … we felt we needed to have in order to make an app people want to use.”
The app allows students to access feeds from the daily Coffey Break, and see chapel speakers and dining commons menus for the week. Students can also access Moodle, email, chapel attendance and the Huntingtonian from the mobile app.
“We actually conducted a survey in the fall last year which helped us determine what features were wanted most,” he said. “The great thing about working on the app was seeing all of these different pieces going on at HU and being able to bring them all together. … You don’t need to pinch and zoom and find all of that data on a screen it wasn’t designed for. It’s been consolidated in one place for students to access.”
Frandsen is considering expanding the app as part of her senior project for the spring 2015 semester.
“Hopefully there will be interest in expanding the app with new features and improvements based on feedback from this first push into the App Store,” she sad. “I personally would love to continue to spend time on this app – it was a very enjoyable project to work on that is also rewarding to see in use by the student population.”
The Android and iOS versions of the app had to be coded seperately, among other problems the group ran into.
“Another challenge we experienced was project management,” Drummond said. “We knew where we wanted to be and how to get there, but we didn’t know all the time who was working on what and how far they got unless we were all together. Popular to contrary belief, programmers aren’t the best at communicating. We tried out a virtual solution, but we eventually resorted to maintaining a whiteboard consisting of tasks and deadlines.”
Drummond and Frandsen both said Jeff Lehman, Ph.D., professor of computer science, played an intricate role in the app’s development.
“He definitely kept us on task with our goals and deadlines, as well as acting as a liaison with other important individuals while we were seeking out access to the information and databases that we needed for the app to function,” Frandsen said.
The students worked with tech services as well to access databases they needed for the app.
“Paul Nalliah was very helpful in getting access to web servers and other items we needed to make it happen,” Drummond said. “These two contributed a significant amount of time our project and allowed us to create the app. We could not have done it without them. Other staff in the Tech Services department also helped when we needed something.”
Freshman Hannah Barrett downloaded the app and said it is “super beneficial.”
“All the things an HU student would want, or need to know is right there in the app,” she said. “I enjoy being able to check my email quicker, and my favorite part about the app is I can see what is on the DC menu before I decide to eat there.”
Drummond said he hopes the app will benefit the student body.
“Over the course of the past century, technology has moved faster than anything else,” he said. “Today, there’s an app for just about everything. We felt there was enough reason to create something worthwhile students would be able to use. At the end of the day, this app isn’t going to change anyone’s life. But we hope it makes it a little bit easier.”