App inventors display practicality, creativity

The creativity, practicality and simplicity of apps invented by Lehigh students impressed attendees recently at LUApps—the university’s first app-building competition.

At the event on Nov. 13, eight teams showed how they used their skills in computer coding, marketing, graphic design, business operations and more to produce apps that can make life simpler or more fun.

Jackson McDermott ’16 and Andrew DiPrinzio ’16 coded the app “Course Calendar,” a Chrome extension app that allows students to import course schedules seamlessly into Google calendars. In one click, classes automatically load as repeated events for the entire semester, with course title, time, location, class type, professor and number of class credits included in the event description.

“Every semester I would enter my own course schedule into my calendar,” said McDermott, a senior majoring in computer engineering. “I thought I should create something and write a script to automate it, so it would take a second to load.”

Spectator Maxwell Anselm ’10 ’11G, a data scientist with High 5 Games, said the Course Calendar app “was a very simple, practical thing, but it [utilizes] all these different sources, so I imagine it wasn’t trivial to put together.”

The Lehigh student chapter of the International Association for Computing Machinery, also known as the Programming Club, organized LUApps. Tae Hong Min ’16, community chair, and Jonathan Wu ’17, chapter president, helped obtain sponsorships by Microsoft and Lockheed Martin. The students had 10 weeks to complete their projects.

Contestants represented a range of majors, including finance, cognitive science, computer engineering, IDEAS (the Integrated Degree in Engineering, Arts and Sciences), and computer science and business (CSB). Michael Spear, assistant professor of computer science and engineering and adviser to the Programming Club, said the event helped students “show the campus community that computer science isn’t really just a major—it’s something that affects so many aspects of our lives.”

This event and a similar spring game programming competition called mobiLehigh are examples of computer science prowess at Lehigh—prowess that the university is building on with its Data X Initiative. Data X will support the hiring of 18 new Lehigh faculty members to strengthen computer and data science capabilities and to expand research and teaching capacities across campus, with an initial focus in marketing, journalism and bioengineering.

Recalling the first mobiLehigh contest held four years ago, Spear said the winning team consisted of “a programmer, a musician and an accountant.”

Going beyond the classroom

Judges from Google, Lutron Electronics and Bentley Systems roamed the science-fair style contest and met with each team to review their app developments. Each company awarded prizes, including ones for Crowd Favorite and Overall Winner.

“I saw a lot of talent,” said Mark Dane, a product designer with Bentley Systems. “I saw people who were doing backend programming and hooking things up on servers and processing things from web pages. I saw graphic design and visual design with the themed-looking apps that some groups had developed.”

Contestant Corey Kaplan ’18 said that in addition to being the android programmer for the Loccasion app, he learned a lot about project management. The app he and his team created produces an electronic all-inclusive Lehigh events schedule to view.  

“One of the best things about LUApps was that it takes what you learned in the classroom and carries it one step beyond that,” said Kaplan. “It really showcases what you can do as a programmer and as a part of a team, while working together and dividing and conquering different aspects of tackling a very large project in a short period of time.”

Contest judge Pete Matt ’04, a Google software engineer, agreed with Kaplan.

“We see a lot of specific technology and web technology that are great for a lot of roles,” said Matt, “but really the ability for students to take a problem, break it down, and find existing tools they can use as building blocks is one of the key things that we do every day as engineers.”

Min stressed the importance of having campus events like app and game programming contests to encourage students to use and share technology. Another initiative the Programming Club is planning for campus is a “Hackathon,” which is becoming popular at other universities. In the event, participants have a limited amount of time to “hack” something together with a specific goal in mind.

All of these experiences help students develop the skills sought by employers, said Chris Spencer ’05, a Lutron Electronics software engineering leader.

“We try to hire the best talent, so we look for people who are very technically sound in the discipline of the software side of it,” said Spencer. “But we’re also looking for people with good communication skills, good soft skills, and good leadership potential.”

Apps and team members

BetaBlock—a project-posting platform that seeks interested people within a local area to participate.—Karen Huang ’17 and Jiayu Lu ’18

Course Calendar (Bentley Systems and Lutron Electronics prize winner)—a Lehigh student can automatically load a course schedule as repeated events for the entire semester on a Google calendar.—Andrew DiPrinzio ’16 and Jackson McDermott ’16

FallDown Battle! (Bentley Systems prize winner)—an on-line racing platform game with three game modes: play self, play computer, play others.—Alejandro Gonzalez ’16 and Dan Kramer ’16

Greek Pillar (Overall Winner)—a social media interface that charts and evaluates students rushing a Greek organization.—JJ O’Brien ’16 and Greg Potter ’16

Groupmebot—a group messaging platform.—Stephen Friedman ’17

Loccasion (Google and Lutron Electronics prize winner)—produces an electronic all-inclusive Lehigh events schedule to view.—Lucas Dittman ’18, Corey Kaplan ’18, Adam Knuckey ’18 and Deep Sheth ’18

LU Major Planner (Crowd Favorite prize winner)—shows the sequence of courses to take in the computer science and engineering major and the mechanical engineering major.—Kento Hirakawa ’17, Vincent Lee ’17, Ruoqiao Wei (graduate student) and Jonathan Wu ’17

StockVise—uses historical data and trends to project if a stock on the U.S. Stock Exchange will increase or decrease in performance over time.—Andrew Dalzon ’19 and Charles Inwald ’19

If this story interests you, please click here to learn about Lehigh's new Data X initiative, which focuses on strengthening Lehigh's research and teaching capacity in computer and data science across multiple disciplines.

Story by Dawn Thren

Photos by Chester Toye ’17

More photos from the event can be viewed here.