First-of-its-kind app centralizes campus arts' event calendars

Jordan Ford
May 07, 2018

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — A new mobile application now allows the University community to explore upcoming art and musical performances on the University Park campus, thanks to a collaboration between the Penn State Performing Arts Council (PAC) and a recent graduate from the College of Information Sciences and Technology.

The free application, which is available for both iOS and Android devices, provides a single platform for arts-related student organizations, the Center for the Performing Arts, and the College of Arts and Architecture to showcase their upcoming events and generate a broader interest in the performing and visual arts at Penn State.

In the app, users can view an upcoming events calendar, discover popular events through a ranking algorithm, and filter by event type so they can quickly find events related to their specific interests. Users can also receive notifications on their devices for bookmarked events and their favorite organizations. Organizations are able to see how many people plan to attend their events, display promotional materials, and link to their websites for more information.

To create the platform, PAC — which works with more than 40 vocal, dance, theatre, music, and writing student groups on the University Park campus — interviewed students with the technical skills to bring their concept to life.

"We had the idea but not the skills to code the platform," said Marissa Works, PAC's incoming president and music education and public relations major. "We thought, why not leverage the resources that already exist at Penn State?"

Works and Anthony Stem, a PAC officer and political science major, spent nearly five months meeting with campus arts leaders to solidify and secure funding for the project. Then they reached out to student organizations and IST classes to identify students with the ability to code the application, ultimately selecting Vincent Vella to handle much of the technical work. Vella, who earned his bachelor's degree in information sciences and technology this spring, collaborated with Works, Stem and Ryan Mysliwiec, a student majoring in computer science, to develop the idea.

With Works leading PAC, and Vella, Stem and Mysliwiec all members of the Penn State Blue Band, the team had a unique passion for the project and a strong understanding of the problem they were hoping to solve.

"There was a big gap between the various arts units and student organizations across campus," said Works. "Events were on different websites and weren't being marketed to broader audiences, so we wanted a single place that showcased everything that was happening."

"PAC was trying to gain more advertising for arts on campus, but they weren’t getting the exposure they wanted organically," added Vella. "They wanted an app to help their organizations better manage and promote their events, and also make it easier for the community to discover arts events happening on campus."

"They wanted an app to help their organizations better manage and promote their events, and also make it easier for the community to discover arts events happening on campus."

—Vincent Vella, 2018 Penn State alumnus, information science and technology

Though he started working on the project in fall 2017, Vella was able to take it on as a project in his IST 411 course during his final semester, which focused on distributed-object computing.

“At IST, we strive for innovation that brings technology to people, improving lives in their communities, whether they are local or span the globe,” said David Reitter, assistant professor of IST and instructor in Vella's class. “[IST 411] gives students problems, first small, then larger, that motivate them to learn how to pursue technical goals effectively. It’s a lot harder than they think, initially, and even exhausting. But it’s fun to see how all building bricks fall into place and a complex website comes together."

Realizing there was no central database of events, Vella drew on his IST education and prior work experiences to build a web scraper that pulled event information from the University's different arts calendars. Then, he coded a method to display event details in a consistent format that fit the calendaring system. Finally, he built an administrative online interface where the various organizations could add new and manage existing events.

"It’s truly been a learning process for me," explained Vella. "It’s my first app, the first thing I’ve created that is actively being used, so I’m excited to see where we can take it from here."

“Vincent stands out as a student who is extremely driven. He pursues complex technical challenges relentlessly and succeeds in the end,” added Reitter. “The idea to support communities by collecting event information in one place is outstanding. Vincent’s next challenge is more entrepreneurial: how to turn it into something that is useful for many communities, is easy-to-use, and economically viable."

While most of the listings will be performance-based, PAC also hopes to promote other ways to support the groups, such as attendance at membership meetings and fundraising events.

"PAC is trying to give a voice to student organizations and unite the arts community in a way that hasn't been done before; we want to bring these groups together through collaboration, interaction and increased visibility," said Works. "And now that PAC has a general membership, any interested student can join to help us create and advance projects that help us do that."

Vella, who has accepted a job as a cloud-based, full-stack open source developer, plans to continue his technical support of the application. And while he hopes to explore how it can be enhanced and expanded to other areas of the University, he remains passionate about advancing the arts at Penn State. 

"I have truly felt rooted in the Penn State community," he said. "It’s such a cool environment to pull up at a table [in the Westgate Building] and just start coding. I'll really miss it a lot."

Concluded Vella, "This project is a way that I can give back to the University and the arts programs on campus to make sure that student performers and artists get the support and recognition they deserve."

  • Vincent Vella - PAC app

    Vincent Vella, a 2018 graduate from the College of Information Sciences and Technology, develops code for a new app that will help the University community explore upcoming arts events on campus.

    IMAGE: Penn State
Last Updated May 09, 2018