911 - Students engineer software package for Carver County

Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Carver County Sheriff’s Department was in need of a system to map traffic stops, traffic accidents, burglaries, thefts, arsons and other 911 incidents throughout the county. Pete Henschel, GIS application and database manager for the county, wanted to be able to pinpoint "hot" 911 incident areas, times of day, etc., which can be useful in making staffing and coverage decisions.

Nine students in a software engineering course taught by Professor Annette Schoenberger accepted the project along with a list of desired functions and five years of incident data on type of illegal activity, location, time of day/week/month and more.

It took more than 1,200 hours, but students completed the assignment.

To call their project a success, the team had to know seven programming languages, learn mapping software, set up a secure server, secure the data, create an online help system, test their program with real data and on different computers, conduct stress tests and produce software documentation, a user’s guide, a maintenance manual and an installation program – with pop-up wizards, no less – so that the client could install the software. Oh, and a slide show to facilitate handing off the project.

Students in Computer Science 431-432 learn software engineering "hands on" by developing software for real clients. Past projects have included a system to track Fingerhut employee cold calling and a program to help the SCSU Office of Records and Registration track and report to the U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs the credits taken by students on the GI Bill.

When students presented Carver County with the final software package, Henschel was astonished: "I was very impressed with what they’d accomplished in one semester," he said.

Professor Schoenberger was also impressed by the students. "They’ve been amazing," she had said as the semester drew to a close. "We didn’t have any meltdowns." That was in spite of a variety of glitches, one being a system crash over spring break. "This is what life in the workplace is really like," she said.

In addition, because there were just nine people on the project, each student had two functions. For example, Amanda Hiley, Windom, was the project manager and a project reviewer; James Wulkan, Hutchinson, was one of two responsible for design and one of two in charge of documentation. Also on the team, and performing dual roles, were Matthew Moline, St. Cloud; Katie Swanson, Corcoran; Brian W. Olson, St. Cloud; Steve Pearson, Anoka; Jason Amunrud, Shoreview; Shane Fogarty, Howard Lake; and Shane Moorse, Marshall.

Package cost? The time students spent on the project, which in the marketplace might cost $40 an hour or $48,000, was at no cost to the client.

Each student earned, instead, true-to-life experience, career-relevant expertise and another high grade on their transcript. Students’ grades were based on individual performance, overall team performance and exams and other course work. Grading also included a factor for peer evaluation of each student’s expertise and contributions.

Overall? "This team got an A," said Schoenberger. "They did a terrific job."

Every member of the team who graduated this spring went straight to a job in computer science. Even the only one in the group who didn’t get his bachelor’s degree (he’ll finish in December) got a job – a summer job – as a direct result of the Carver County project. Because the project gave him Microsoft.net and high-level database experience, Olson was hired by Simacor, Plymouth, as a consultant for software development and implementation services. "I’m making pretty good money right now," he admitted, with a smile in his voice. The remaining seven went straight from SCSU to jobs, too. "They’re all doing well."

Amunrud, now employed by St. Paul Travelers, says he’s already using the teamwork skills the students developed – coordination, reviewing peers’ work, reporting to management, collaboration – and "will every day of my career."

"We started out with nothing and ended up with an actual application," said Olson. "If you want experience in the real world, something that’ll be useful in a job, this is the class."

- Marjorie Proell

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