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Computer Science majors help spread college’s influence to Pennsylvania’s fields

Computer Science majors Logan Harris and Alex Brown are two of four students helping gardeners and researchers collect pollination data.

York College of Pennsylvania is spreading its influence to the planting fields of Pennsylvania.

This past summer, the York County Extension office – an educational agency that provides science-based information to residents and businesses – sought the help of Computer Science Professor Don Hake and his students.

The goal: help gardeners and researchers learn factors such as what time of day certain pollinators (like bees and butterflies) arrive at plants, as well as how to attract or repel specific pollinators.

The class developed software that relieves the Extension from having to put its collected information on spreadsheets. Now, its master gardeners and outside researchers will be able to easily store and access that data online as well as pose questions about it and view the information as graphics.

Students’ roles

Seniors Logan Harris and Alex Brown are two of four Computer Science majors working on the project.

“This will open avenues they didn’t realize they could see,” Logan explains. “It lets them do much better research.”

Logan’s main role is to delegate tasks to the team. He also makes the database function and writes queries. He’s been involved in merging the collected information from a temporary database to the permanent repository.

Alex has been designing the database, what he calls back-end work. He wrote the function that allows users to query the database.

“In a previous class I did a lot of database work, and I really enjoyed that,” he says. “I find that field interesting.” He says he heard this project would have a huge database, “and I wanted to get in on that.”

The other students involved in the project are Chase Wells and Nick Sarzynski.

Path to success

Both students say that an earlier class, Software Engineering and Design, put them on a path to success in their latest project.

“It’s similar to what we’re doing now. It helped me the most,” Alex says. “It made me realize that I do enjoy database work.”

In that earlier class, Logan says, students learned computer programming. They developed a program called “Jamii,” which he says means “community” in ki-Swahili. It was a small-scale social media program that allowed groups of people to communicate.

One of the group projects in Alex’s earlier class involved creating an online music player with playlists, similar to Pandora.

Feedback that’s gratifying

Alex says he will be involved in the project throughout his senior year and could remain active with it after graduation. Logan won’t be in this course in the spring, but he will continue working on the project.

What started as classroom learning about web applications in the students’ previous studies has evolved into developing those applications for clients in the community. Getting feedback from actual clients, Logan says, is gratifying.

 “Working with real clients has kept us on our toes,” he notes.

Alex agrees. The Extension Office project has taught him about client interaction, which he calls extremely important.

What’s next after school

The two soon will take their York College experience into the world of work. Alex says he wants to keep working with databases, “on the back end of things.” Logan hopes to go into cybersecurity to help corporations prevent hacking of their data.

In the meantime, Logan has an internship with a software engineering company that works with roofing contractors to develop customer relations management software.

Both say that York College has equipped them with the ability to tackle difficult situations.

In his Algorithms class, for example, Alex says he learned to think outside the box.

Logan’s experience is similar.

“Absolutely the most important thing is to critically think,” Logan says. “You approach a problem with no information whatsoever and are able to ask the question, ‘What do I need to know in order to know what I need to know?’

“This will help me because when I don’t know what to do, I will know where to start.”