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Scott Bigelow | 910.521.6351 | scott.bigelow@uncp.edu
University Communications and Marketing

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Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Computer science students created ‘apps’ for UNCP

UNC Pembroke: There’s an app for that!

Thanks to an advanced programming class and Dr. Charles Lillie, UNCP has several useful software applications for Apple’s popular iPhones or iPod Touch devices.

In late February, the apps became available on the iTunes store: http://itunes.apple.com/us/app/uncp/id355933649?mt=8 (opens in a new window).

When Apple opened its popular iPhone and iPod platform to programmers, Dr. Lillie saw an educational opportunity. His Advanced Software class began writing apps for UNCP this fall.
 
 “When the students found out about it, they were very excited,” Dr. Lillie said. “This class has become very popular.”

Seated from left are: Carlos Townsend, Elizabeth Monroe and Angelica Johnson. Standing from left: Dr. Lillie, Quan Cohen, Chris Moore, Cassie Manis, Antenh Kibret, Ashlee Jacobs, Michael Jurgensen and William Mock. Not pictured is John Davis.

Seated from left are: Carlos Townsend, Elizabeth Monroe and Angelica Johnson. Standing from left: Dr. Lillie, Quan Cohen, Chris Moore, Cassie Manis, Antenh Kibret, Ashlee Jacobs, Michael Jurgensen and William Mock. Not pictured is John Davis.

Black Line

To launch the project, Dr. Lillie applied for a grant through UNCP’s Division of Information Technology (DoIT), which has business links to Apple. He got free iPod Touch devices, which are pocket computers.

Then, the 11-member class organized a team and dived in. Like the corporate model, the team consisted of a project leader, chief software engineer, applications developers, testers and documentation specialists.

Many obstacles stood in the way. Chief among them was breeching the PC vs. Apple divide.

“I’m a computer science guy, so I’m also a PC guy,” Dr. Lillie said. “I’ve always used PCs because they were more open to software development work.”

Once underway, language barriers dropped and problems met solutions. It was a classroom full of high achievers, Dr. Lillie said.

“Some of our students are already Apple users, and some are just good programmers,” he said.

Chris Moore falls into the second category. He served as the chief software engineer and was responsible for the overall technical aspects of the project. 

Moore designed and developed the framework used by all the applications to work as one unit.

 “The hardest thing was learning the new language,” Moore said. “It’s a whole new environment, and we had to learn to program all over again.”

William Mock agreed that the learning curve was steep. He led the research and development department that guided the team toward its mission.

“When developing software for any platform, you have to adapt on the run,” Mock said. “Writing software is building something to benefit someone.”

With that idea in mind, the team focused on writing applications that could help UNCP students and administrators. They programmed a University-wide telephone directory, events calendar, campus map, academic calendar, catalog and more.

“They also put up the Brave Cam,” Dr. Lillie said, referring to the two live cameras aimed at the Arts Quad and the University Center Mall.

 “We’ve linked to a live feed that fits on an iPhone,” Moore said.

The work was taxing as the students translated data from UNCP’s Web site to fit Apple’s devices. It was often like putting a square peg into a round hole, said Antenh Kibret, an applications developer.

“We were putting Web-based designs onto a different platform with different technology,” Kibret said. “Yes, it was frustrating to transfer from one platform to the next.”

Angelica Johnson worked on the campus directory.

“It was hard work,” Johnson said. “Fortunately, I didn’t have to type in 6,000 students and 900 faculty and staff, but it was very difficult to transfer the information from the source to the application.”

When installed on an iPhone, one touch will dial any telephone on campus or pop up an email.

The team members were all seniors, and many of them are older, non-traditional students. They have eyes on careers in information technology.

Moore said he enjoys “writing code.”  Mock would go into networking. Kibret wants to go into Web site development.

Elizabeth Monroe and Quan Cohen are currently working as IT interns at the large Campbell Soup plant nearby.

“They liked our work and asked us to come back for a second semester,” Cohen said. “We’ve gotten a lot of hands-on experience, and they call on me to trouble-shoot. I have a passion for that.”

Further developments include a collaboration with UNCP’s Art Department to design graphics for the apps. The UNCP apps joined more than 100,000 others on Apple’s store.

The Apple programming project will continue next semester in Dr. Lillie’s Advanced Software class.

“I am limiting it to upper level students,” he warned.

In the end, readers may soon be able to read this and other news stories from UNCP’s Newswire on their iPhone or iPod Touch, and that would be simply iMazing.

Contact UNCP’s Mathematics and Computer Science Department at 910.521.6244 or email mathcs@uncp.edu.

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