By: Eric Sandbulte, The Brookings Register
Phones are now an inescapable part of life, with 77 percent of adult Americans owning a smartphone as of late 2016, according to Pew Research Center studies.
Rising with the increased accessibility of smartphones are apps, a burgeoning field.
With all this in mind, a team of students at South Dakota State University made the most out of the opportunity to take a new eight-week online class this spring, Mobile Media Design and Applications, by building an app for Project Search.
Project Search is a transition program with the goal of helping students with disabilities explore careers and develop job skills.
But as those students intern at businesses, there was a challenge that always seemed to pop up: the students would go on break and lose track of time and not return to work when their break was supposed to be done.
That’s where the mobile media design class and Rebecca Britt, an assistant professor in the Journalism and Mass Communications Department, come into the picture.
As part of the new social media minor offered at SDSU, this class had students develop mobile apps from conception to launch, mimicking what app developers do.
Last year, Kyrsten Zimmerman, the job coach at Project Search, contacted Britt to explore ways they could work together to solve various needs for Project Search in a mutually benefitial way.
With her class of 24 students divided into teams, Britt gave the teams freedom to chose what their app project would be, but she did mention Project Search’s request.
Juniors Rebecca Moorhead and Paige Leafstedt were part of a five-person team, and they approached Britt to learn more about Project Search and what they needed done.
“Once we found out it was helping students with disabilities on campus, it was hard to turn down,” Leafstedt said. “We’re glad we took it.”
Like everybody else in the class, making an app from scratch was completely new to them and their other teammates.
“We were terrified at first because … we have no experience in computer science or coding. So that was a huge challenge for us to overcome,” Leafstedt said.
But after working through app creating software Appy Pie, it was an easier proposition than they initially feared. Using that software, the team of five went to work on making an app, specifically a timer for the Project Search students to use that will let them know when their work breaks are done.
“We made a timer that they can type in their own numbers and then made a how-to that was simple and easy to use. We dipped into Project Search colors, so it’s very personable to them and their organization,” Moorhead said.
Although there are plenty of different timers out there, this one was built with those students’ needs in mind that timers made for a general audience don’t always take into account.
Too often on those other timers, “the text is often really small or the buttons are a little bit tiny, and it just makes it difficult to navigate when you’re also learning these job skills and you’re managing so many tasks at once,” Britt explained.
There was a lot of work to do, especially with extra meetings with Zimmerman to make sure the app was headed in the right direction, but it was worth it, according to Moorhead. She and Leafstedt liked that they spent time working on something that would be useful, and it’s nice to see something come out of their team’s hard work.
It’s also not a bad thing to have on a résumé.
“Apps are everywhere. They’re only going up, so it’s going to be beneficial for our futures to know how to make that,” Moorhead said.
As for the other student teams in the class, they likewise made good use of their eight weeks of work.
One team worked on a transportation app that provided a list of different transportation services available in Brookings.
“They also partnered with Project Search, but then tailored it to be accessible to the Brookings community as well,” Britt said. “They listed things like BATA, Safe Ride Home, other services. You could basically go to any of those services and request a ride home. That’s really useful because we don’t really have anything like that in Brookings where if you need a ride home, you can easily do that.”
Another team, aiming for those visiting Brookings or new to town, worked on an app listing different attractions and restaurants in town. They connected the app with the businesses’ existing social media accounts and reviews, as well as contact information.
“I thought it was a really nice way to sort of synthesize everything into one tool,” Britt said.
Yet another app partnered with Project Search to make an information hub providing parents of student interns with the contents of the Project Search website in another media platform.
“Each (app) was really different, but they all served a unique need. That was great to see because I didn’t know what to expect,” Britt said.