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>  News Releases >   2005 >   December

Project of epic proportions

Dartmouth College Office of Public Affairs • Press Release
Posted 12/16/05 • Contact Susan Knapp (603) 646-3661

Computer science course gets students out of the classroom and into the community

This past fall, four Dartmouth seniors took a course called EPICS, which stands for "engineering projects in community service." The mission was for the students to take what they learned in the classroom and put it to use in the community.

Monsthire staff members Linda Gray and Kevin Coburn
Monsthire staff members Linda Gray and Kevin Coburn test their new survey tool developed by Dartmouth students. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Benjamin O. Minkowsky, Erik Hinterbichler, Naomi L. Forman, and Alexander D. Ferguson, all members of the class of 2006, worked on a project for the Montshire Museum of Science in Norwich, Vt. The museum wanted a more systematic and sophisticated way to survey their visitors. So, the students, under the direction of their professor, Christopher Bailey-Kellogg, built a custom-made and customizable surveying tool for the museum.

"It was a nice, challenging project for the students," said Bailey-Kellogg, an assistant professor of computer science. "It brought together the knowledge and skills they acquired at Dartmouth, and put them to good use."

Close up of the handheld computer survey.
Close up of the handheld computer survey. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

The group used small, handheld computers donated by Palm, and modified them for their needs. With input from the staff at the Montshire, the students developed a software program to help the staff create customized surveys. Then, they developed Palm software to display these surveys and collect responses. The final step involved getting the survey answers from the Palm back to a desktop computer for compilation and analysis.

"It was quite a complex challenge to create a piece of software that's easy to operate and adaptable enough to be used by other museum departments," said David Goudy, the director of the Montshire Museum. "This gives us a valuable time-saving tool to help us learn more about our audience."

Hinterbichler, one of the students in the class, said, "Yeah, there were some frustrating parts, but if it's not challenging then it's not worthwhile. Overall, I liked it a lot; it gave us a chance to work on something that real people would be using instead of just doing regular school assignments for a professor."

EPICS, based on the model established by Purdue University, is now underway at many colleges and universities. This is the first Dartmouth EPICS project, and Bailey-Kellogg has another planned for early 2006. The Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity wants to improve volunteer organization and coordination, and Bailey-Kellogg has some students lined up to build a web-based tool to manage the schedule of volunteer opportunities.

Hinterbichler approves of continuing the EPICS program. "I think this is a great idea for a class, hopefully they will keep it at Dartmouth as part of the regular curriculum," he said.

Dartmouth has television (satellite uplink) and radio (ISDN) studios available for domestic and international live and taped interviews. For more information, call 603-646-3661 or see our Radio, Television capability webpage.

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