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Creating Information Technology Solutions
UT Tyler Seniors Design Computer Software for Tyler Police, Hospital System

Student Russell Rockett (left),pictured with Dr. Stephen Rainwater, helped design the Tyler Police Department’s Crime Statistics Search software. The online feature allows citizens to select a Tyler location and view statistics about crime in the area .

In a UT Tyler classroom, computer science and computer information systems majors deliver a carefully planned PowerPoint presentation about a software system they’ve spent the semester developing. This is no ordinary class presentation. Along with their instructor and classmates, their audience includes administrators of Trinity Mother Frances Health System.

Just prior to graduation, students in the UT Tyler computer science department take on hefty projects in a capstone course designed to assess the strengths of their learning. Rather than being assigned to a theoretical or simulated problem, these students are challenged to create solutions in actual service to the local community.

UT Tyler students have designed software systems for the city of Tyler, Tyler Independent School District, the Texas Computer Education Association and, most recently, TMFHS and the Tyler Police Department.

Students rate the capstone experience “invaluable.’’ And their projects are receiving high marks from both faculty and clients.

‘Professional Quality’
Dr. Stephen Rainwater’s students last fall assisted the Tyler Police Department in efforts to enhance the accessibility of public information. The class developed Active Call List and Crime Statistics Search features for the Tyler PD Web site, making Tyler one of a few cities in the nation to offer such online services.

The Active Call List allows the media and general public to go online and view a listing of calls to which Tyler PD patrol units are currently responding. The content is updated automatically every two minutes to provide real-time information. The Crime Statistics Search feature will allow citizens to research statistical information about crime in specific areas of the city.

“The students stepped in and did a wonderful job. They did professional quality work,’’ said Sgt. John Bausell, Tyler PD technology coordinator. “It was not only a great opportunity for the students to show off their skills, but also a huge benefit to the city and the citizens of Tyler.’’

The Tyler PD projects were part of an ongoing partnership between the UT Tyler computer science department and the city of Tyler. UT Tyler students have worked on other city projects in both capstone and non-capstone courses and as student interns.

The work of UT Tyler students has “proven to be exceptionally useful’’ to the city, said Benny Yazdanpanahi, chief information officer in the city’s information technology department. “Their work was exemplary and deserving of the praise I would give my own employees for excellent work.’’

Yazdanpanahi is a 1992 graduate of UT Tyler’s master of computer science program and most of his employees are UT Tyler graduates, he said, adding that the city has garnered national and international attention for its use of cutting edge technology.

Impressive Work
TMFHS, a regional organization with hospitals in Tyler and Jacksonville and affiliations in several other communities, provided projects for Dr. Nary Subramanian’s capstone class in the spring.

The organization’s information technology department has a paper-based repository of documents containing information for the disaster recovery of various computer software applications. One student team designed an electronic, Web-based version of the repository to allow appropriate personnel to quickly access the documents at any time, from any location.

The other team designed a Web-based repository containing the electronic versions of contracts and agreements entered into by TMFHS. The new system includes prompts alerting appropriate personnel when a contract or agreement is approaching expiration.

“The students understood our needs and did a really good job. We were very impressed with their work,’’ said Becky Western, TMFHS director of information technology. “We hope to continue working with UT Tyler on student projects in the future.’’

‘Win-Win Partnership’
Dr. Rainwater, associate professor of computer science, said of the Tyler PD projects, “I am very proud that the students were able to produce such good products and that they did it on behalf of the people of Tyler. It probably would have cost the city thousands of dollars to have hired someone to do the work.’’

The computer capstone program represents a “win-win’’ partnership between the university and the community, Dr. Rainwater added. “We are doing something that is valuable to the public while allowing our students to apply in an actual information technology environment all of the knowledge and skills they have acquired in their academic program.’’

Chris Field
Dr. Subramanian has supervised various capstone projects.

Dr. Subramanian, assistant professor of computer science, said the capstone course “is an amazing learning experience, especially for students who have never worked in a real information technology environment. They gain an understanding of what it is to develop a real, practical system. It also gives them actual work experience and personnel references to include on their resume,’’ he said, noting that the capstone project requires students to perform on the level of a junior systems analyst.

Dr. Sumit Ghosh, UT Tyler computer science chair, said the police and hospital projects are the types of experiences his department hoped to provide capstone students. “We decided to begin finding real projects for our students and, over the past two years, the projects have become more and more meaningful.’’

He said only about three other cities in the nation have some form of active call list. Those programs were designed by commercial vendors, he noted. “The city of Tyler’s ACL is unique in that it was done entirely by students in the UT Tyler computer science department.’’

‘Invaluable Experience’
The capstone course is challenging but the rewards are immeasurable, students said.

Beth Williams took 18 hours including Dr. Subramanian’s capstone class in the spring, before graduating in May with a bachelor’s in computer information systems. Her last few weeks of school were especially hectic. Along with studying for final exams, she and her teammates were consulting with TMFHS administrators and hammering out the final details of the document repository project.

The project consumed much of her time and energy but the experience “was the capstone of my education in computer science,’’ Williams said. “The capstone class takes everything you’ve learned and allows you to gain invaluable experience. You really have to draw on the knowledge you’ve acquired in school and then you increase that knowledge through working on the project.’’

Matthew Morrison, a participant in the Tyler PD Crime Statistics Search project, said the capstone course “provided the best preparation for the ‘real world.’ I learned to effectively work with a team and communicate well with a vendor about their project needs. And I enjoyed working with my team and creating something that was a benefit to the community,” said the May graduate in computer information systems.

Michael Ashigbi Jr., also a May graduate in computer information systems, said the Tyler PD Active Call List project “was a challenge because it was something we had never done before and we wanted to deliver exactly what was asked of us. And it was rewarding because, at the end of the semester, we were proud of what we had accomplished.’’

‘Tremendous Help’
Functioning much like a police radio scanner, the Active Call List gives citizens an accurate view of what is happening in their city. The information displayed online is copied from Tyler PD’s computer-aided dispatch system, which is used by dispatchers to track both 911 and non-emergency calls.

Active Call List information includes the priority level of the call, the status on whether the officer has been dispatched or is en route or at the scene, the time the dispatcher received the call and the location of the call, rounded down to the nearest 100 block.

In addition to keeping the general public informed, the Active Call List is highly useful in media relations, said Don Martin, Tyler PD public information officer.

“This is a tremendous help to me because no longer is it necessary for the local media -- three television stations and the newspaper - - to call me every morning for updates on police activity. They can go online, see the calls we’ve handled and if they see something of interest, they can call me for more details,’’ Martin said.

The Crime Statistics Search feature will allow the user to select an address, street or general area in the city and a date range to get statistical information on criminal activity in that location, Bausell said.

“Once this feature is launched on our Web site, it will be a very useful tool for researchers and the media as well as the general public. For instance, they may want to do research on crime trends during a particular time of year or find out what time of day property crimes tend to occur. Instead of coming to the police station and filing an open records request, they’ll be able to do their research online,’’ he said.

“I believe another popular search will be parents looking for an apartment for a son or daughter who will attend college in Tyler. They will be able to view a list of apartment complexes online, select a complex and see all that activity that’s been reported there for a particular date range,’’ the 2005 UT Tyler computer science graduate said.

‘A Real Need’
When UT Tyler contacted TMFHS in search of projects for capstone students, Western immediately thought of her department’s need for a Web-based documentation repository.

The information technology department’s top priority is to “meet the needs of our customers – doctors, nurses, the business office, all the various personnel within our health system. And occasionally we’ll have a need within our department for a system or a database or some means for organizing that gets pushed to the bottom of the list. The document repository was one of those needs,’’ she said. “We asked the students to come up with a mechanism of database, a structure of maintaining our internal documentation.’’

Western said the students designed the contracts repository as a tool for maintaining documentation within the TMFHS legal department.

“We thought these projects would be good opportunities for the students to apply everything they learned in school, from assessing the problem to finding the best solution to delivering the finished product,’’ she said.

“The capstone course really does bring it all together for the students,’’ Western added. “It gives them a chance to work in a real information technology environment and meet a real need.’’

Other Community Projects

In addition to the Tyler Police Department and Trinity Mother Frances Health System projects, UT Tyler computer capstone projects in the community have included the following, under the guidance of Dr. Nary Subramanian:

Workflow System for City of Tyler, spring 2006 – Developed an information system to automate the case documentation process, prioritize projects and implement time stamping on projects and documents received and reviewed by the legal department.

Scheduling System for Texas Computer Education Association, fall 2005 – Developed an information system to help automate the process of scheduling presentations, workshops and other convention sessions using software rather than the manual approach previously used.

Inventory System for Tyler Independent School District, fall 2005 – Developed an information system to help automate inventory control at Tyler ISD’s 26 campuses.

Non-Capstone Project
In a non-capstone software development course taught by Dr. Arun Kulkarni in the spring, junior and senior computer science majors took on the following projects:

Agenda Item Database and Content-Based Video Retrieval Systems for City of Tyler:
Developed an automated system for use by city personnel to facilitate the process of reviewing and adding items to the agenda for upcoming Tyler City Council meetings. Students also developed a searchable video database of city council meetings. The database will allow citizens visiting the city’s Web site to search the archives for a particular agenda item and view a video clip of the item being discussed by the City Council.

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