By Lana Sweeten-Shults
GCU News Bureau
Fresh Start Women’s Foundation found itself in a conundrum.
Employees at the non-profit organization – one that helps women transform their lives through education and other resources -- were spending a lot of time calling clients, one by one, to remind them of their appointments for family law support, workshops and other services.
Luckily, some new Java coders have an app for that.
The coders – the first to go through Grand Canyon University’s Java boot camps – partnered with Fresh Start to solve their messaging pickle as their capstone project. It was one of two community-minded capstone projects presented during a showcase on Tuesday at Howerton Lecture Hall. The other half of the class developed a similar mass messaging app for another non-profit, Children’s Cancer Network.
Meg Sneed, Project Manager for Fresh Start, said this problem has been on the minds of the organization’s leaders for about a year.
“Being able to have a solution and open up that staff time to meet with clients and not make those calls is going to be HUGE,” said Sneed, who attended the capstone presentations with a team from Fresh Start.
Edna Gomez-Green, Fresh Start’s Family Law Support Manager, added, “Oftentimes we need to remind them (clients) to bring certain documents when they come in. It (the new app) really provides us with the opportunity to indicate specifically what we need from them so they have a list to work from as opposed to talking on the phone and then them trying to remember all the things that we talked about. Since it’s in writing, they can refer to it more than once if they need to be able to gather all the required forms that we need them to bring in.
“It’s going to be an incredible tool. It’s going to help us improve upon their ability to communicate with us and us to communicate with them.”
Team Fresh Start spent three weeks designing a text-messaging application to help with the organization's messaging issue. Staff members can select a standard appointment reminder in the app or can type in a personalized message that includes the date and time of the appointment. Another feature of the app is a text message history, in real time, so the staff can confirm when the message was sent and the message’s current status.
The group asked for a phone number from the audience, plugged the number into their app and, seconds later, the audience volunteer received a text reminding them of their next Fresh Start appointment.
Team Children’s Cancer Network said one of CCN's challenges was being able to reach out to groups, such as donors, volunteers and family members, while keeping individuals’ numbers confidential. The organization was able to keep those contacts confidential by sending individual texts to each number.
CCN founder Patti Luttrell wondered if there was a more efficient way to connect with these groups while maintaining individuals’ privacy.
The team designed a web app prototype that allowed the organization to send out thousands of messages with one click, instead of copying and pasting and sending out one message at a time, while maintaining individuals’ confidentiality.
Nine members of the community, including two recent GCU graduates, spent 15 weeks learning Java coding – and, in some cases, changing their career paths -- in this immersive, pilot boot camp, a non-degree program that will be followed by more boot camps like it.
It is yet one more offering by GCU as it positions itself as the place to be for STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education. The University in recent years has invested in new science, engineering and technology facilities, has offered new cybersecurity degree programs, and has partnered with such organizations as the Arizona Cyber Threat Response Alliance and the Arizona Cyber Warfare Range-Metro Phoenix.
The students, many of them referred to the boot camp by Career Connectors, received 600-plus hours of instruction and attended class from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday to Friday. Those who graduate from the program will earn a coding certificate.
“We also gave them the opportunity to work after hours and weekends,” Vince Grell, Vice President of GCU’s Non-Degree Technology Programs, said with a smile. “This group has worked incredibly hard. It’s a collaborative group and a close-knit group.”
“I feel really strongly about the nine that are sitting here,” Bromander said. “We basically really dove probably the deepest that I have ever been in a boot camp, technology-wise.”
Among the nine coders is Jacob Taylor, who was a psychology major when he graduated from GCU in April 2017. He wasn’t sure exactly what he wanted to do, so when the opportunity came up to go through the boot camp – the pilot was offered free of charge; ensuing boot camps won’t be – he took the chance.
“I remember thinking at the start of the camp – 9 to 5 Monday to Friday, that’s a lot. But once you’re in it, I enjoyed coding so much I didn’t really think about how long the day was,” he said.
Taylor said he had never coded except for basic coding at an internship, none of which he remembered. “All this was brand new to me,” he said.
The best part of the experience, in his view, was getting to work with a non-profit.
“It’s a real problem that they really need help with,” he said. “That motivates you to work harder knowing that it’s going to be put into use.”
Koddie Snyder-Becker is a graphic designer who decided to expand her skills when she signed up for the Java coding pilot boot camp.
“It was very, very intense,” she said of the program. “It seems, as soon as you start to get one concept down, ‘Oh I got it!’ Then on Monday, Scott would introduce something entirely new. It’s like you don’t get a chance to breathe for 15 weeks.”
Yet, despite the challenges, it was an opportunity she said she wouldn’t pass up.
Theodor Stark, whose background is in project management, agreed:
“We got mixed up in different groups, so we all had the chance to work with everyone else. It was really a great experience for me. I felt I couldn’t get enough of the learning. I couldn’t get enough of the technology, and I’m looking forward to keeping on with development.”
He said he loved when he had those “a-ha” moments in class – moments that kept him going, and the boot camp has inspired him to make a career change: “At this point, it’s a done deal for me in continuing web design.”
Taylor will be joining him in making the switch.
“I ended up loving it,” he said. “I’m definitely doing the career jump.”
You can reach GCU senior writer Lana Sweeten-Shults at [email protected] or at 602-639-7901.