Penn State students build Web site for nonprofit organization

The Harrisburg Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis (CF) Foundation has a much-needed Web presence for the first time, thanks to the talents of three undergraduate students at Penn State Harrisburg.

The work of the Information Sciences and Technology majors — Daryl Hechanova from the Philippines, Kelsey Kerr, Hershey, and Kevin Griffin, Chadds Ford — drew the praises of local CF staff members at an official “hand-off” celebration of the Web site earlier this month.

The value of the new site, already seen by the local chapter as a major ingredient in its ongoing efforts to increase awareness.

“We now have a much better way to communicate with our local families,” Erin Velazquez, executive director of the Harrisburg Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation, said. “We have a small staff, but now can disseminate information more efficiently by posting our newsletters online and providing e-mail contacts to the office.

“Through the students’ work, we will save funds on postage and the site has given a more personal touch to the chapter. We will also be posting local news stories and family profiles, enhancing fundraising and friend-raising in the fight to find a cure for CF.”

Added Lead CF Volunteer Dean Shields, “This site would not exist without these Penn State Harrisburg students. We could not go out to the business community and pay for this service.”

Embodying Penn State Harrisburg’s extensive outreach and service commitment to the community, students in Assistant Professor of Information Systems Roderick Lee’s IST classes frequently undertake projects which pair the expertise they have learned in classes to address an expressed need from business, industry or organizations in the area.

“There is a philosophy in Information Sciences and Technology that courses are project-based and students are given real-world problems to solve,” Lee explained. “An average of 75 percent (four per year) of the projects in my classes involve an external client in which students utilize skills learned in class to benefit the community.”

The student service project emphasis extends to other Information Sciences and Technology classrooms at Penn State Harrisburg as well.

Faculty member Jesse Middaugh commented that in two of his classes “I have students build a Web page application, or a PC-based or client-server based computer system for a ‘real-world’ client. On average, I am running four to six customer projects involving students in those two classes a year.”

A chance conversation between Lee and Shields resulted in the student-produced solution to the challenging problem faced by the nonprofit. Lee’s chat with Shields came at a youth football game in Harrisburg. Lee’s son plays on the team and Shields, whose 20-month-old son is afflicted with cystic fibrosis, is a coach.

Lee recalled, “Dean said the local chapter needed a Web site, but with limited financial resources, it was not able to contract for the work. I told him I thought I had a solution for him. He asked how much it would cost and when I told him nothing, he was surprised and immediately interested.”

Lee explained to Shields the IST focus on community service projects and that he would run the concept past his classes. The three students eagerly accepted the challenge to develop the Web site, which CF estimates saved $6,000.

In a team approach to the assignment, Hechanova was responsible for the Web design and images, Kerr took care of information gathering and client liaison, and Griffin made sure the codes were compatible with the content management system. The trio has continually tutored the CF staff on how to update and maintain the site and will provide technical assistance and troubleshooting throughout the spring semester.

“We started with four completely different designs which our class evaluated and critiqued, bringing them into the learning process,” Hechanova said. “Even classmates not involved in the project became so enthused with the opportunity to help CF that they volunteered to help.”

“We stayed in constant contact with CF officials to get a feel for their design needs and get a family vibe to the site,” Hechanova said. “The project made us more enthused; we’re excited to help others and gain real-world experience.”

Added Kerr, “It was great! We worked on an actual problem-solving partnership. We brought class lessons to the project. What we learned in class directly impacted our efforts.”

Commented Lee, “When the project began, I thought it may be beyond the students’ scope, but they researched and learned. The initial requirement was only to create a low-level prototype. Now this one has become the envy of the class.”

He went on, “The CF staff was remarkably cooperative and the project wound up being the fastest — and perhaps the most demanding — turnaround of any I have had in class.”

“This is definitely a win-win situation, said CF’s Shields. “When the project began, I was not sure of the ultimate outcome. Now that it is finished, the work of the students has far exceeded my expectations. They did an awesome job of helping us reach the local community. This is a professional-level Web presence now — the kind you’d get in a business environment.”

Asked how he felt with the project completed and handed over, Hechanova laughed and said “relieved.”

“I feel good that we’ve done something that is usable,” he went on. “We were motivated to help others. And we learned a lot.”

The Web site for the Harrisburg Chapter of the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation may be seen at:

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Last Updated March 19, 2009