Students free volunteers to serve the hungry

This article was originally posted August 2011 by The Huntsman Post.

Huntsman students free volunteers to spend more time serving the hungry

By Paul Lewis Siddoway

Volunteers will have more time to serve the hungry in Tooele thanks to efforts of some Huntsman students who helped a food bank develop a data base to better track its donations.

Kathy Chudoba teaches an undergraduate capstone class in the Management Information Systems Department where teams of students were tasked with developing “soup to nuts” applications for businesses and organizations in the community. After working with their clients to identify their problems, the students designed, programmed, tested and implemented a new database system for each organization, she said.

Three years ago a food bank in Tooele, which had been funded by the Salt Lake Community Action Program, was integrated into the Tooele County system. Tooele County had not yet developed its own database, according to the food bank’s director Lori Sandoval.

“Since then, the volunteers have had to record who has been using the bank, how many pounds of food is being donated, how much money is coming in through donations and how that money was spent,” Ms. Sandoval said. “And they’ve been doing it all by hand.”

The food bank receives much of its financial aid through United Way and state, federal and private grants, she said. Filing a different report for each of those entities has proven time-consuming.

Ms. Sandoval said that volunteers, who could be helping people who come to the food bank, end up instead spending hours doing administrative work as they add up numbers on a calculator and fill out forms.

A team of students, including Cindy Gleed, who graduated in the spring of 2011, came together to create a system to help track those who use the food pantry, as well as the money and supplies that are donated.

“When you really get into the processes and defining exactly what it is you need to track and exactly how all the pieces need to go together, it becomes a whole lot bigger than what you really think it’s going to be,” Ms. Gleed said.

There were challenges as the students searched to find a server to host the new system, Ms. Gleed said, and the students had to focus on keeping sensitive information secure.

Facing increasing numbers of people who need help from the food pantry, Ms. Sandoval and her volunteers said they were grateful for the help the Huntsman students offered.

“With this new program, it’ll do all the calculations; we just have to enter them as the people come in,” Ms. Sandoval said. “It’s going to make life so much easier.”

Another program the students assisted was the America Reads initiative, which is aimed at helping school children read at their grade level. The program started in 1999 with five tutors at one school and has since grown to more than 100 tutors at 21 schools. Todd Milovich, the creator of America Reads and the program coordinator for Educational Outreach at Utah State University, said that as the program expanded, so did his database.

“It just kind of grew from easy to manage to really difficult to manage,” he said.

Zac Coleman, who graduated from the MIS Department in the spring of 2011, had been a tutor for the America Reads program and had come to work closely with Mr. Milovich. Even before Mr. Coleman began to work on the project in Dr. Chudoba’s class, he was uniquely prepared to understand the need the America Reads program had and how to resolve it.

“It turned into a bigger project than I think anybody thought it would,” Mr. Milovich said.

“The America Reads project was probably the most technically challenging out of all the projects,” Dr. Chudoba said, “but the students created a huge website for them.”

The America Reads program now has a database for the tutors to track their hours and pay history, and Mr. Milovich can send reports to the school districts, as well as individual schools.

“Depending on what they needed, it could have taken hours, and now it should just take seconds,” he said.

The America Reads program also has the ability to track individual people, Mr. Milovich said, so students do not get lost if their families move or the teachers or tutors change.

“We’ve always wanted to be able to pick out the talented students while they are young so we can keep them in the pipeline headed toward getting a higher education,” he said.

The MIS students also helped the Multicultural Center of Cache Valley at the Whittier Center in Logan by creating an application to collect and track information about those who use the services of the center.

“That application is up and running now, and they’re already using it,” Dr. Chudoba said.

But making reporting numbers easier and saving time was not all the Huntsman students were able to accomplish. The Huntsman students, working with America Reads, researched how and where they could house the server for the program they built, Mr. Milovich said.

“They not only built the database, but they handled the negotiations with the IT department and followed it through,” he said. “They went above and beyond, really. It wasn’t just the class project; they continued to help after the semester ended. They stuck with it until I had a product I can use.”

Ms. Gleed said that all the students were dedicated to the programs they were helping.

“It was an amazing experience; it was painful, but you can not duplicate the learning that came out of that whole project,” she said. “We were really focused on, and invested in, the food bank and what we could give them. In the end, it’s to benefit the client, and I hope we accomplished what we set out to do.”


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