College of Integrated Science and Engineering

Students Develop App to Connect with Alumni


By: Daniel Vieth

Last year, JMU’s Department of Integrated Science and Technology celebrated their 20th anniversary, bringing together students, faculty, and alumni to commemorate two decades of the program. For students, events like the alumni panel became an invaluable opportunity to hear about their predecessors’ experiences after graduation. Recognizing the value of this information, three ISAT students attending the panel formed the idea of developing a smartphone app and website that would facilitate communication between students and alumni. With this inspiration, James Fencil (‘15), Robert Bolen (‘15), and Connor Major (‘15), along with the help of their advisor Dr. Samy El-Tawab, began their senior capstone project: Alumni Connect.

James Fencil (‘15), Robert Bolen (‘15), and Connor Major (‘15)

Alumni Connect is a soon-to-be-released smartphone app and website that will allow current and former ISAT students to interact right from their phones. “Alumni will make an account, and once registered they will be able to post job opportunities, events, announcements, activities, and visits to campus for students to see,” said Fencil, explaining how Alumni Connect will work. “They can even select particular [ISAT] concentrations so their notifications will only be sent to specific students,” as well as make other changes to their notification settings. Once students see these notifications they will be able to message the alumni to get more information about their events or opportunities. “This app provides many ways for the alumni to give back to ISAT,” added Bolen. “For example, alumni can sponsor capstone projects.” The app is set to be released publicly for Apple/iOS products during the group’s senior capstone presentation on April 17th.

Despite the wealth of knowledge students can receive from alumni, the current process of reaching former students is not easy. “There’s a real need for this kind of app,” explained Major. “Currently, almost all communication between students and alumni has to go through professors as a middle man, and we thought that we could bypass that and have more of an alumni-student connection.” Recognizing the opportunity to connect directly with alumni through a website and app, the students immediately sought out help from El-Tawab, who teaches and does research with web development, telecommunication, networking, and security. “They immediately came to me with their idea right after the [alumni panel] event,” said El-Tawab. “Usually students do not know what they want to do so early, but this group knew exactly what they wanted to develop, and that was great.”

While the app won’t be officially released until April 17th, the students have already finished their beta version and plan to have Alumni Connect finalized by late March for testing and the validation process. “The app will be available on iOS, so any iPhone 4 or higher will be able to download it and use it,” said Fencil. “Putting it on Androids is a goal,” added Bolen. “However, the website will be mobile friendly, so even if you don’t have an iPhone you can access the same information.” The Alumni Connect app was also accepted into the Modeling and Simulation Mobile App Competition at the 2015 Spring SImulation Conference (SpringSim’ 2015).

Mobile app connects ISAT alumniEven though the students will be graduating this year, they’re hoping that Alumni Connect will live on. To accomplish this, the group plans to give Alumni Connect to the ISAT Department, who will continue running the app and website if they decide to do so. “Department Head Eric Maslen encouraged us to make a reliable app so they might adopt it and easily maintain it,” explained El-Tawab. If the app is successful for ISAT, the team also plans to allow other departments on campus to use it down the road. “Right now it’s just an ISAT-based project, but it could easily be extended to any other major, or the entire university,” said Major. As the app works through a database of information about alumni, its structure could be used for any department on campus. “We’re hoping the app and website are popular, and I think students, alumni, and faculty are going to love it,” continued Fencil.

“My dream would be to use this app we’ve created when we’re alumni, like recruiting people for our companies,” exclaimed Major. “It would be awesome to come back full circle and use the products we created to post an event for our companies.” After graduating, the students all plan to pursue their careers in computer technology, with Fencil planning to continue creating smartphone apps, Bolen entering the network security field, and Major working on backend computer programming. “This group has been outstanding to work with,” exclaimed El-Tawab. “They know what they’re doing, they like what they’re doing, and every week when we meet they’re pushing themselves to produce something new.”

If you are interested in learning more about the Alumni Connect app and website, be sure to attend the group’s senior capstone presentation on April 17th or the group’s demonstration at SpringSim’ 2015 on April 12th.

Published: Thursday, April 2, 2015

Last Updated: Thursday, January 4, 2018

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