Civic engagement takes many forms at Wesleyan: volunteerism, activism and advocacy, community-based work, and more recently, unique academic experiences like service-learning and civic engagement courses. Alicia Gansley ’15 – a Computer Science major completing the Economics minor and Civic Engagement certificate – has been involved with nearly all of these activities during her time at Wesleyan. In the fall of 2014, she brought her programming knowledge to COMP 342: Software Engineering, a service-learning course where groups of Computer Science majors developed special projects for local organizations. For insight on how working with a community partner affected her experience of this course, I asked Alicia a few questions about the service-learning component:
Q: What project did you work on this semester?
A: My group made a web application for Green Street Teaching and Learning Center to use to sign students up for one of its after school programs. Our system will allow Green Street to collect students’ contact information and course preferences, as well as allow the staff to keep track of this information throughout the semester.
Q: How did the experience of working on a project for an organization differ from working on a project for a typical academic course? Were there unexpected rewards and challenges that came with having a client?
A: It was a real pleasure working closely with Sara MacSorley at Green Street and learning more about their facility and programs. Part of what struck me about working on a project for a client was the fact that you can never just say “90% is enough.” We needed to always figure out some way to meet their specifications, which I think pushed the team to really learn and work together. I think it was a great motivation to produce our best work, and I’m excited to think we helped such a worthy organization with a hard working staff.
Q: Now that the course has ended, what’s next for your project? Does Green Street plan to implement your work?
A: A couple of students will be hired this Spring to polish all of the projects our class produced last semester. Hopefully, Green Street will be able to implement the project in the Fall.
Q: Why did you sign up for this course?
A: I signed up for the class mainly because I am pursuing a career in software engineering and I wanted to get some formal training in that field. I wanted an opportunity to take the time to learn Ruby and Ruby on Rails. I was also interested in taking a class where we would be undertaking a large scale, team-based programming project.
Q: How has this course influenced your career interests?
A: It solidified my interest in being a software developer and made me realize how much I value teamwork. It also made me realize how much work and thought goes into good software projects. I also realized that software can be used in all kinds of organizations to solve many different problems, and I’m really interested in seeing how I can use my programming skills to promote and help with other good causes in the future.
Q: What other student groups and activities are you involved with at Wesleyan?
A: I am a Publicity Assistant at the Wesleyan University Press and a course assistant in the Computer Science department. I was the web editor for The Argus and a peer advisor for the Patricelli Center. I have also been involved in feminist activism on campus and was the student leader for Democracy Matters, an organization that advocates for public financing of elections.