Becoming community collaborators
For the second year in a row, faculty and students in the Department of Computer Science have been an integral part of award-winning community partnerships. Ball State’s Community Partner of the Year Award, created in 2017, is an “annual award [that] honors local businesses, community organizations, or agencies that have demonstrated excellence as a partner and co-educator in Ball State’s community-engaged learning experiences.” Alongside these partnership projects, several Computer Science faculty members have been long-engaged in immersive learning initiatives, which simultaneously serve their students and the greater Muncie area and beyond.
“Over the nine years of my teaching the Capstone series, we have worked with 67 community partners on 117 projects. Our community partners range from local and regional businesses, startups, to non-profit organizations and different university offices and departments across colleges.” – Dr. Lan Lin, Associate Professor of Computer Science
“We have always had a large community need for software to be produced by our students to help solve some real-world practical and urgent problems, in which a software solution will go a long way. The Capstone experience the CS Department and our curriculum provides fills in this gap and offers wonderful immersive learning experience for our graduating seniors,” said Dr. Lan Lin. Dr. Lin, along with many other faculty in the department, believes that the students’ hands-on experience working for real clients gives them a wealth of invaluable skills to jumpstart their careers.
2020 Winner: Canning Heroes for Minnetrista’s Oakhurst Experience
Minnetrista is a staple in the Muncie community, heavily intertwined with the Ball family legacy. For two semesters, Dr. Paul Gestwicki, Professor of Computer Science, and his undergraduate students collaborated with Minnetrista’s Vice President of Visitor Experience, George Buss, on intensive game design. The end product became video game Canning Heroes, a “multiplayer, cooperative game about food preservation.”
Dr. Gestwicki led his CS 215 (Introduction to Game Design) students in exploring the fundamentals of educational game design and developing the game for Minnetrista’s Oakhurst Experience. Canning Heroes has been recognized several times, including winning the first-place award at the Consortium for Computing Sciences in Colleges Midwest Conference and a silver award at the 2019 Serious Play competition.
[A] benefit is that the team recognizes the gravitas of community-engaged work. They are not just putting together a submission for homework: they are collaborating with a real partner. This raises the stakes and allows the students to reflect on personal responsibility, accountability, and the importance of continuous improvement. – Dr. Paul Gestwicki
2021 Winner: Accutech Systems
Located in the heart of Downtown Muncie, Accutech Systems is a financial trust accounting and investment management software company. The company was nominated by faculty leader of the Capstone program, Dr. Huseyin Ergin, “for exemplary contributions to Ball State’s senior-level software engineering sequence.” (Ball State Office of Community Engagement, 2021)
In Fall 2019, the partnership began when Accutech and Ball State students teamed up on three software projects. These projects would not only lead to the creation of real, usable software for Accutech, but would also fulfill the students’ Capstone requirement, in which “students are trained on the software development tools and techniques used in the industry, said Dr. Ergin.
Trey Gourley, a 2005 Ball State alum and now Lead Software Architect at Accutech, was assigned to oversee the work of each student team, monitoring and guiding their progress. Other Accutech professionals also held monthly meetings with students to help projects develop “from the initial idea phase through the selection of software design tools, implementation, testing, and documentation,” according to an article from the Ball State Office of Community Engagement.
At the end of the Spring 2020 semester, after having worked through the beginning months of COVID-19, the student teams successfully transferred their software projects to Accutech. In the 2020-2021 school year, the partnership went on with 17 new students and four new projects. In a mutually beneficial effort, Accutech hired six Computer Science students: five as full-time employees and one as an intern.
Dr. Ergin says this experience “gives [students] access to many recent tools and techniques in use in addition to the real life experience of a CS graduate. The client partners are usually domain experts that are hard to reach outside the Capstone context for a CS student. During the capstone projects, the teams visit the companies, meet with them, and see how they work and many other things that are happening in professional life.”
In the four years that Dr. Ergin has lead students in working with client-partners, seven students were directly hired, one student got an internship, and another student received partial ownership at a company that was founded as a result of his Capstone project. In Dr. Ergin’s opinion, this partnership program is “win” for all parties involved.
“Accutech’s President, Adam Unger reinforced Dr. Ergin’s sentiments by stating, ‘I appreciate the focus that President Mearns has placed on our community and collaborating with Dr. Ergin on these projects has epitomized what a win-win looks like for two organizations working together.’ “(Ball State Office of Community Engagement, 2021)
In response to the 2021 Community Partner of the Year award revolving around one of his major projects, Dr. Ergin said “One award with one of the partners is just symbolic. We have many great partners currently. The client partners speak well about our collaboration with them and are very appreciative of the software my teams deliver.”
Leading in local classrooms
Alongside these community-collaborative projects, Associate Lecturer of Computer Science Dave Largent has been leading the CS4MS+ program (Computer Science for Muncie Schools) since the Fall of 2017. Students enrolled in his class, CS 341: Computer Science Community & School Outreach, work to skillfully introduce computer science in local classrooms.
“The focus of this immersive learning class [is] to expose our partners’ students, particularly underrepresented minorities and females, to CS,” said Largent. “These schools serve students from diverse backgrounds who often do not have the resources available to participate in CS activities.”
In recent years, Indiana has established K-12 computer science academic standards. A main focus of this program is to provide resources and help educators to meet these requirements.
Ball State students working in the classroom lead the charge in curating lesson content and are available to help answer questions. “Our project aims to research, develop, and curate activity templates, modules, and other educational resources which will better incorporate CS experiences,” said Largent.
Initially only in middle school classrooms, the “CS4MS” title orignally stood for “Computer Science for Middle School.” Now that the program has expanded to also include high school classrooms, the new title is CS4MS+, MS+ standing for Muncie Schools and other surrounding areas. Largent and his students partner with a few local schools, including Northside Middle School, Burris Laboratory School, and Muncie Central High School.
“These immersive learning courses encourage learners to dip their toes into what their experience will likely be like after graduation, thus better preparing them for their first internship or post-graduation job,” said Largent.
In implementing “domain knowledge” to produce solutions for real clients, students in the Department of Computer Science not only build a strong professional foundation, but also discover the value of serving the communities around them. The College of Sciences and Humanities celebrates the innovative initiatives of our faculty as they equip Ball State Computer Science students for real-world impact.