HackPSU winners design website for grad students seeking advisers

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. ­— Two graduate students in the Penn State's College of Information Sciences and Technology (IST) recently won first place for a website they designed during the 2017 HackPSU competition.

During the 24-hour hackathon, Shaurya Rohatgi and Mukund Srinath developed FindViser, a site that helps prospective graduate students find potential faculty advisers.

HackPSU, an annual competition on the University Park campus sponsored by the Penn State EdTech Network, tasks students with designing an innovative product in a short time period. Every company and sponsor at the event presents a challenge they hope to solve with technology, and the student competitors choose which event to enter. Rohatgi and Srinath chose a proposal to design a product that would benefit students.

“The problem we saw was that new graduate students find it cumbersome to find new advisers,” Rohatgi said.

The students, both from India, shared that they were unsure how to search for an adviser since they were coming to Penn State from a different country. FindViser aims to make that process easier for students, regardless of their physical location.

To create their prototype, Rohatgi and Srinath scraped data from faculty profiles listed on the IST website and built a database. Then, they matched keywords from the faculty database with similar words and interests found in the user-uploaded resumes.

“Based on that, we do a ranking on the best professors to be your adviser,” said Rohatgi.

Ultimately, the program reveals the five most compatible professors for the student using a matching software.

In the competition’s guidelines, Srinath and Rohatgi had 24 hours to design and test the website.

“We brainstormed for about an hour,” said Srinath. “It was a problem we both faced and we had a good solution.”

To get started, they conducted online searches to discover what features were relevant to include. Rohatgi and Srinath tested their app on other graduate students and themselves before submitting it to the contest. They shared that they, along with all of their testers, received their current adviser as their top option.

And though they knew they had a strong product, Srinath and Rohatgi weren’t confident that they could place due to the level of competition during the event.

“When they announced third place, we thought ‘OK, we’re done,’” Srinath said.

To their surprise, the pair not only won the competition, but could have the opportunity to expand the product in the future. As first-place winners, they received an Amazon gift card, an invitation to EdTech Engage in October 2018, and an opportunity to meet with Penn State Edtech Network leadership.

“If they want to commercialize it, we’ll be contacted,” Srinath said. “We built this initially for IST because we know the professors, but it can be scaled to any university.”

Although they designed the website to help graduate students find their ideal adviser, Rohatgi and Srinath added that any faculty member in IST would be a great choice for prospective graduate students.

“People [in IST] are very open to ideas,” Rohatgi said. “You can go to any professor for help with your research questions, and I’d say that’s the coolest thing.”

Last Updated January 17, 2018