East Computer Science Students Put Skills to Work Project Serves Needs of Two Partner Organizations

East Computer Science Students Put Skills to Work Project Serves Needs of Two Partner Organizations
“It’s pretty awesome to see my work being used in a meaningful way, rather than just sitting untouched on a flash drive somewhere,” said Lakota East senior Bobby Yost.

For nearly ten years, students in the second-year computer science course at Lakota East have tackled a large-scale programming project. Early on, the task involved designing computer games. In more recent years, they’ve stretched themselves to think about the social impact of their project, but have never put any finished product to use.

This year, however their plans are bigger. Not only are they going beyond the four walls of their high school, but they’re also building something that will make a lasting impact on two community organizations with a real need for programming expertise.

It’s the ultimate combination of 21st century learning, intersecting two teaching methods that are growing in popularity around Lakota, across all subject areas and grade levels: service learning and project-based learning.

The challenge students were given simulates one they might encounter as IT professionals one day. Each group had a client. Each team was led by two project managers, and each was presented with a real problem facing its client. 

With a focus on database management – because of its prevalence in the business world – the groups paired up with two local non-profit organizations as partners: Reach Out Lakota and the Community Foundation of West Chester/Liberty.

Reach Out Lakota’s plea for an automated database for its food inventory left an impression with the first group led by Yost and fellow senior Mitch Bockhorst. That’s not surprising considering the organization provides relief to hundreds of Lakota families each year, mostly in the form of food and clothing, and gets the large majority of its donations through food drives hosted by Lakota schools.

“Seeing so many food drives over the years as a student…for me at least, it’s definitely a pressing need,” said Bockhorst, noting the current inventory system maintained in a Microsoft Excel file. “(Reach Out Lakota) has been so present in my life. It feels good giving back to something that has done so much for my community.”

The second group was moved by the challenge to create a comprehensive marketing tool that would allow the Community Foundation to efficiently reach its growing base of volunteers and donors in the ways they prefer. In other words, the program would deliver one message to a range of email systems and social media platforms, based on the individual preferences of the Foundation’s key stakeholders. 

According to co-leaders and seniors JC Pyron and Austin Reifsteck, they are driven by its potential application to other community organizations and needs.
 
“Something like this could be reconfigured for so many other needs,” Reifsteck said.

The complexity of both projects goes beyond the scope of what students learn in class. “It’s the class that I say ‘I don’t know’ in the most,” said computer science teacher David McKain.
 
The process, including the chance to work with IT professionals who can fill the voids of expertise, gives them invaluable experience in programming and service.

“Doing this it has very direct impact we can see,” Bockhorst said. “You don’t get that in many other class projects.”