Students help local businesses with computer information systems

Two teams of Western Carolina University seniors majoring in computer information systems recently worked with local organizations to solve information technology problems as a part of a service learning-based capstone class, “Applications Development.”

One team developed software for the Jackson County Department of Social Services, and the other team developed a system for Appalachian Wireless ISP.

The social services office provides numerous services to the citizens of Jackson County, including child and family services, adult services and economic assistance programs, said William Richmond, WCU associate professor for computer information systems. Employees must account for the time they spend helping clients through reports to the N.C. Division of Social Services in Raleigh. Employees manually fill in a form with multiple entries and give it to their supervisor before the clerical unit keys the information into the state computer system.

“The WCU student team developed a system to automate much of the form’s process,” said Richmond. “The students’ system integrates with the local department’s existing database to populate the client name and unique 11-digit identification number.” Employees now select service and program codes by using drop-down boxes, and the form calculates the time spent with each client.

Tyler Joyner, a student working on the project, said he enjoyed working on the project and that it was a learning experience. “We learned to collaborate with other clients in order to analyze, design and implement a new system that will be useful to their agency by helping to streamline data entry,” Joyner said. “The project was a unique opportunity because we received real on-the-job experience.”

JCDSS computer systems administrator Ruth Thompson says that WCU students and Richmond, their adviser, have done the community a great service in developing the automated system. “Our staff will save so much time every day,” Thompson said. “This will not only make them happier in their work, but it also will enable them to spend more time helping clients, which is what the community wants them to do rather than filling out state forms. We are so very appreciative of the partnership we have developed with WCU.”

The class’s other client, Appalachian Wireless ISP, is a small, local Internet service provider serving customers in rural areas in and around Highlands and offering Web development and network management, said Richmond. It has approximately 100 clients using its wireless network.

When a customer places a service call for requests, such as new service installation or to address problems with existing service, the information is recorded on paper. “The company owner, Chris Cutshaw, conducts the service call, but may have to return if he needs additional equipment or parts,” said Richmond. “After the service call, Chris writes down relevant information, and the customer is billed.”

The student team developed a system to support the work orders generated by the service calls, said Cutshaw. “I looked at many work order systems on the market, but they all seemed to have a large company in mind,” he said. “They were too complicated with too many bells and whistles that are not needed in a small business environment.” The system the team developed allows Cutshaw to quickly enter information for each service call and generate invoices based on the parts used and the time spent.

“I am very proud of the students and the system they created and feel that the project has given them a real-world scenario that they can take to their jobs,” said Cutshaw. “This collaborative project is one of the best I have ever experienced, and I will offer my business to the university for future projects any time they need me to.”

For more information about WCU’s computer information systems program, call (828) 227-3383.