Student Requests Drive Recent IT Projects

Submitted on Tuesday, 11/12/2013, at 8:54 AM

By Daniel Diner ’14

Let's say you're a student, and the dirty clothes are piling up in your hamper. But every time you go to do laundry, the machines are in use. The Information Technology office at Amherst has found a way to help. In response to student requests, the IT staff has developed and implemented Web Laundry, a system that fasttracks the laundry process by displaying a schematic that shows every machine on campus and which of them are available. What's more, it notifies students when their laundry is ready.

The project began from an anonymous user’s suggestion to the Tell the CIO program: "Can we have an online system where we can see if laundry machines are available without having to go to the laundry room with all our stuff? Also, maybe even an alert system for when the machines are done?” The software research was undertaken by Taylor Perkins ’11 from the Office of the Chief Information Officer and the IT Systems and Networking group.

A student does laundry.

Web Laundry is one of several student-driven projects that IT undertook last summer. It's also one of many ways in which IT has expanded use of the ID card-linked OneCard system. The system was born in 1987, when Dining Services was looking for a means to track Valentine use and restrict hall access according to meal plan records.“It was a huge boost to efficiency," says Liz Lucas, a 33-year veteran of Dining Services. “I saw it as a convenience for the students and an efficiency for the staff.”

The student body quickly adapted to the OneCard, and requests for expansions started coming in soon afterwards. IT took over most of the OneCard operations when the system was expanded to regulate door access to campus buildings. Now students are able to pay for Valentine, campus cafes, vending machines and laundry services through student IDs, using a debit system.

Another summer project was anonline package notification system for the campus post office. The office is small but the volume of mail large (more than 19,000 student packages have been delivered so far this semester), and after years of students asking for an alternative to paper package notices, the post office began to seek methods of electronic notifications.

Unsatisfied with the high cost and lack of specificity in software solutions offered by outside vendors, the post office staff turned to IT to come up with an in-house solution. Rob Ansaldo took to the challenge, writing a prototype application the very evening he first heard the request. It was soon put into use. “This was an incredibly simple problem space that was begging for a really simple solution,” Ansaldo says.

Among other recent projects are mobile printing and printing release stations, the Pathways alumni-student mentoring system, the installation of audio recording booths and a video recording studio in Seeley Mudd and an update of the Amherst mobile app. An expansion of the AC Dollars system is now in testing; new updates enable parents and guardians to add funds to student accounts.

Photo by Rob Mattson