Computer science students pair work and classroom learning to build a more efficient campus
Berea College has a long history of doing things a little differently—the work requirement being an important example. Soon after the College’s founding, students began to work in a variety of positions to sustain the institution, earn money to support themselves and contribute to the surrounding community. Over the years, it became apparent the work experience provided an important learning enhancement to the student experience.
Berea continues to marry academics and labor, often providing students with real-life applications of their education. The Student Software Development team, comprised of 10 computer science students, has made significant contributions to the efficiency of technological processes at Berea, while learning how to apply the coding skills they gain in the classroom to real-world problems.
Under the direction of Dr. Scott Heggen, assistant professor of computer science and director of the program, and software engineer Brian Ramsay, students are working to standardize and streamline the application development infrastructure. Their work mutually benefits them and the College.
“The work the students have done over the past five years has improved business processes and enabled new possibilities across many different departments, from receiving new works to display in the art gallery, to improving administrators’ ability to review research proposals, to coordinating the whole campus’s pool of student labor,” Ramsay said.
Hila Manalai ’22, a computer science major, says she has always found joy in problem solving.
“After being exposed to computer science in my first internship as an [information technology] assistant,” Manalai said, “I was naturally attracted to the field, primarily because of its puzzle-like nature.”
The College encourages work placement related to the students’ intended course of study, but it is not required. However, Manalai has found the overlap between work and academics especially helpful in something as complicated as coding and says it has been really advantageous in and out of class.
“Because I am exposed to coding practices at my job, I feel more confident in my abilities as a programmer inside the classroom,” Manalai said.
Guillermo Cruz ’21, the lead student on the Student Software Devel-opment team, explains that some of the responsibilities of his position include performing security and coding standard reviews as well as managing issue queues and debugging code.
The team is responsible for the creation of eight applications that assist campus processes. One of the most notable is Labor Status Forms (LSF), a system that has proven to be crucial to the Labor office and allows labor supervisors to submit forms to hire students, modify labor positions and see the labor history of current and past students, among other things.
“The LSF is in the final stages of being completely rebuilt as we’ve been working on this since the middle of the semester,” Cruz said.
“This application dramatically reduces the paperwork required to manage all of the student labor on campus,” Ramsay added. “It increases the speed with which Labor supervisors can create and update their labor positions and provides a central location for Labor office employees to view relevant information and resolve conflicts that arise.”
Another program, the Berea College Syllabus Repository (BCSR), is utilized by professors and administrators to archive syllabi and categorize them.
“The BCSR maintains a record of every syllabus for every regular course taught here since the application’s inception,” Ramsay explained. “This lets us provide our accreditor with several years of a comprehensive history of the education that happens at Berea College without requiring a large administrative and departmental effort to gather this data each time it is requested.”
Both Manalai and Cruz intend to pursue careers in computer science and software development after graduation, and both share the sentiment that working for the Computer Science department has been an incredible opportunity.