Purdue University North Central students in the Systems Analysis and Design Methods course took on a unique assignment this fall semester as they developed a website for the Veterans Treatment Court of La Porte Superior Court No. 3.
This was part of a service learning project developed for the class by Dr. Carin Chuang, PNC associate professor of Computer & Information Technology. Chuang earned a grant from Indiana Campus Compact to help make this project possible.
She explained that a primary goal of this project was to help the students develop the "soft skills" that are essential for career success, while they enhanced and their technical or "hard skills."
"Employers want employees to have the ability to interact, collaborate and negotiate effectively," she said. "Soft skills are very important and coveted by employers."
Another key component of the class is for the students to reflect on their experience and what they learned and how it can be applied a professional.
The class divided into three groups, each working independently to develop a different website. Each group met with Judge Jennifer Koethe and with court project coordinator Agnes Meer and Information Technology Department members Darlene Hale, director and Jon Meyers, web master.
The client meetings gave the students the opportunity to learn more about the court and what Koethe and her staff need from the website. The site is to be a resource for veterans, an informational tool for the public and a place for volunteer mentors to sign up to offer their time and expertise to help fellow veterans. Koethe asked for it to feature an introductory video, links to helpful resources and an interactive calendar.
The site must maintain a consistent look and functionality with the La Porte County website.
Each team developed a business plan, said Christopher Tobolski. Those plans were updated and changed as needed.
The students met with Dr. Anne Christo-Baker, PNC assistant professor of Organizational Behavior and Leadership who helped them prepare their "soft skills" in advance of their meetings.
Some students admitted they knew that careers in computers and information technology require technical skills, but did not realize how much their interpersonal skills would come into play.
"Effective communication makes the project easier," said David DeSmet.
Elton Dean and his team found that asking the client open-ended as well as close-ended questions helped them solicit information.
Koethe and Meer agreed they are not tech-savvy and were happy the students took time to understand what they wanted and worked to deliver it.
Steven Crockett voiced a common observation, "I learned to convey technical information to people who weren't as well versed in it as we are."
While face-to-face meetings were important, email became an essential form of communication. Justin Hreha said that he and his teammates learned to compose professional emails and realized the importance of responding in a timely manner to emails with the clients and among themselves.
Jason Clark said his team researched web sites of similar courts and found few examples. The team decided to "keep it simple."
His teammate Dylan Bowen noted that the team used a software program to collaborate online so they could work as together or individually. The team also found a program that gathered and sorted the responses of those completing the volunteers form.
Finding this useful software helped them realize they did not have to "recreate the wheel," said Clark. "We tried to recreate the wheel, but it went flat."
Bryant Reese said he found that a number of details needed to be tended to in creating the site, including making sure that all branches of the military were mentioned in a drop down menu for the mentor signup sheet. All of this added to the learning experience.
"This was the longest, most detailed project our team members have had," said Samuel Swanson. "It turned out to be more rewarding that I would have imagined."
Each team ensured that their site can be changed as needed once it is turned over to the courts, said Tim Carmody.
Student-created user manuals will ensure the court employees will be able to work with the site once it goes live, noted Alex MacLeod.
After the websites were presented to Koethe and the court staff, she complemented the teams for their thoroughness, their professionalism and their creativity.
"You developed fantastic projects," she said. Each design featured the requested elements and all seemed usable. "All three sites hit the mark with our user audiences."
Her decision on which to use will come later, she said, noting that in the final product may combine elements from each site.