App Factory Resume Grows

Published: October 2, 2015

Community projects are far from common at many universities.

Assistant Professor of Computer Science Dr. Derek Riley, and Computer Science Lecturer Tim Knautz will tell you that because the University of Wisconsin-Parkside is committed to community partnerships, the two are no strangers to requests for project assistance.

As director of the Ralph Jaeschke Solutions for Economic Growth Center (SEG) Knautz is regularly approached by businesses and organizations throughout southeastern Wisconsin seeking student and faculty help on myriad business challenges from marketing and IT to human resources and logistics. 

Lately, mobile-app development has been a very hot topic and these projects helped produce a new UW-Parkside initiative: the App Factory.

At times, the university's academic calendar and the progression of students through the curriculum can limit university-community partnerships.

"We needed to find a way to bridge the academic calendar and enable projects to more efficiently flow from one semester to the next," said Riley, who serves as the App Factory co-director along with Knautz.

Computer science, business and art students work year round in the App Factory along with paid and unpaid interns. Even as students progress academically, they continue to work in the App Factory and develop projects.

"Just one of many benefits is seeing students progress," Knautz said. "The freshmen and sophomores who were seeking guidance from juniors and seniors last year are now the students giving advice. They can almost anticipate the questions newer students have ... because they were asking some of the same questions a year or two earlier."

The project that put the App Factory on the map was a mobile-app development for Kenosha Area Transit (KAT) that allowed bus riders to access KAT schedules. In addition to being a benefit for riders, the app is a benefit to KAT staff members, who were handling close to 300 calls per day -- all with the same question: "When is the next bus coming?"

Seeing the success of the KAT app, the Belle Urban System (BUS) in nearby Racine (UW-Parkside is located between the two southeastern Wisconsin communities) wanted in on the action. The App Factory has also developed, and continues to work on, about a dozen projects, including an app for county emergency managers.

"Students have created a learning community where we all collaborate and stay on the bleeding edge of the mobile-technology field," Riley said. 

That collaborative, community experience prepares students to be internationally competitive. The student-faculty initiative has also given Knautz a new answer when the community calls: "If you need an app, we have an App Factory for that."

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