Students develop Web solutions for Tanzanian company

Two students at Penn State New Kensington have provided the technical wherewithal for "trekkers" to reach the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, East Africa, and they didn’t venture beyond the Information Technology Center on the Upper Burrell campus.

Taylor Transue and James Miller, senior information science and technology majors, created a business model for Trek2Kili, a Tanzanian company that specializes in guiding amateur hikers, known as trekkers, to the top of Kilimanjaro, Africa’s highest mountain. Based at the foot of the mountain, Trek2Kili is a local concern that wants to expand its customer base globally via a website and internet resources. Working on the project throughout the spring semester, the students’ solutions exceeded Trek2Kili’s original expectations.

“The company was mainly concerned with having an operating website,” said Transue, a graduate of Kittanning High School. “However, our business plan covers more issues, such as advertisements, search engine optimization, and other IT (information technology) aspects.”

“The business case presents Trek2Kili with the most cost-effective solution,” said Miller, a native of Valencia Borough in Butler County. “Given the fact that they have little technical knowledge, our business case is a step-by-step guide they need to get started.”

The two honor students were selected for the unusual project by Hal Smith, associate professor of information sciences and technology at the campus. Smith, who holds a doctorate in mathematics from the University of Albany, maintains an ongoing research program where projects often result in student participation.

“I am always interested in being involved with undergraduate research and typically work one or two student teams each year,” said Smith, who served as adviser for the Trek2Kili project.

How this improbable collaboration unfolded across more than 7,000 miles can be traced to a serendipitous encounter between Azizi Aman, Trek2kili’s founder, and Ray Mastre, a 2003 graduate of the campus’ information and sciences technology program.

Mastre, a manager at PricewaterhouseCoopers, trekked Kilimanjaro last year. He procured the services of Aman, who served as Mastre’s private guide to the top of mountain.

“During the trek, I had a lot of time to talk with Azizi about his life and his business,” said Mastre, a member of the campus Advisory Board. “I found that much of his business is driven through the Web and it is imperative that he has a website.”

Like nuclear fission, the company owner triggered a chain reaction that involved the alumnus, the professor and the students, which resulted in the energy needed to produce the results. Aman had a Web problem, Mastre had a solution. After the climb, he told Smith about the experience and connected him with Azizi. Smith solicited the services of Transue and Miller, who have participated in a number of class projects that produced thorough and careful work.

“Jim and Taylor were familiar with seeing projects with many uncertainties through to completion,” Smith said. “The project didn't start with a clearly defined goal, just a vague notion of a need. It was a great opportunity for them to blend their technical knowledge with their research experience to help Trek2Kili formalize the problem and develop a plan.”

Transue and Miller presented their completed project publically April 17, at the campus’ annual Research and Creative Exposition. The exposition provides students, under the guidance of a faculty adviser, with the opportunity to conduct research, draw conclusions and present their information in a public setting. This year, 50 students researched 37 projects that will be exhibited in poster format or delivered orally.

When he’s not studying or working on the project, Transue serves as facilitator for information and sciences technology classes at the campus. The Kittanning resident troubleshoots problems that may arise during the classroom use of Polycom services. Polycom allows collaboration among geographically dispersed group, such as students at other campuses, via video and voice distribution. He graduated in May and has landed a job as IT analyst at Highmark in Pittsburgh.

Miller, a product of the Pennsylvania Cyber Charter School, is a member of the Dean’s List whose membership is reserved for students earning grade-point averages of 3.5 or higher. He earned his bachelor’s degree in May. He will be looking for positions in the information technology field.

The project is not the first Tanzania-New Kensington campus connection. Coincidentally, Tanzania, along with Kenya, is this year’s “Country of Focus.” Sponsored by Global Programs and the International Committee at Penn State New Kensington, the program is the yearlong, campus celebration of international cultures. For the past five years, the campus has embarked on the promotion of greater awareness and understanding of world issues, international trends and global policy debates. Each year, the campus adopts a country or region of the world to inspire teaching and scholarship. Students, faculty and staff will explore and reflect on various aspects of Kenya's and Tanzania's history, culture and economic, social and political reality.

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Last Updated May 08, 2012