|Student automates convocation attendance recording in independent-study course
RELEASED: Feb. 17, 2005
DANVILLE, KYFor years, the system for recording convocation attendance at Centre College was a low-tech affair, involving pencils, slips of paper and manual data entry. Emily Green, a senior English major from Tullahoma, Tenn. who has been working with the convocations department for four years as part of her financial aid package, notes that the old system of recording attendance "took no less than five days [for any given convocation] and was extremely inefficient."
It was a situation crying out for someone to fix.
Surprisingly, that someone came in the form of student Peter Burns who, working in collaboration with Information Technology Services director Art Moore, developed an automated ID swipe system that will make things easier for students and convocation staff alike.
"For at least the past two years," says Moore, "Marsha Crowe and Emily Green in the convocations office have talked with me about a way to improve the tedious and time-consuming method of capturing attendance by students at convocation events, entering the attendance record into a system of data, and making that data available to students via Information Centre, [the College's online personal information resource for students, faculty and staff]. Last year, I went so far as to identify a student to work on the project, but the student backed out when he realized just how much work was involved.
"This year I approached Peter Burns with the idea and he embraced it. Furthermore, he made some suggestions that I had not considered and, as we investigated the potential scope of the project, he didn't shy away. So we agreed to enroll Peter in an Independent Study with me as faculty mentor but also included the convocations staff as active participants in the work."
Burns, a sophomore from Mobile, Ala., and Moore first tested the new system at a small convocation, with positive results. There are still bugs to be worked out, mainly on the back end, where the data has to be incorporated into the Information Centre database, but the new system will be in place for all spring convocations.
Burns used Visual Basic for the information-gathering phase of the project, and is now immersing himself in SQL, the database query language, for the back end work. He welcomes the challenge of learning new languages. "I've been programming all my life," he says. "It's something that I've always enjoyed doing."
The success of this project, adds Burns, will lead to increased use of student IDs for all aspects of campus life, "from dorm entry to snack and drink machines to laundry room use someday."
Assistant dean of advising Mary Gulley calls the new system "a wonderful upgrade," adding "the new technology will allow us to credit convocation attendance more quickly and more accurately. Peter and Art have led the way and have put in an enormous amount of time. We're giving feedback, but their technical skill is what has made it happen."
For his part, Burns was grateful for the confidence Moore placed in him. "This has been my first real-world opportunity," he says. "I had no previous practical programming experience. Art Moore gave me the chance to show what I could do."
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Founded in 1819, Centre College is ranked among the U.S. News top 50 national liberal arts colleges. Centre alumni, known for their nation-leading loyalty in annual financial support, include two U.S. vice presidents and two Supreme Court justices. For more, visit http://www.centre.edu/web/elevatorspeech/
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