One of the unique opportunities that students from UNO’s College of Information Science and Technology (IS&T) have as part of their coursework is getting the chance to apply what they’ve learned in support of local nonprofits and government agencies – in the Omaha metro and beyond.
During their final year, students at the undergraduate and graduate level take part in a capstone course – a culmination of all the other courses that have come before it within IS&T. In recent years, faculty members like Sachin Pawaskar, Ph.D., have used the course as a service learning opportunity.
Groups like FITGirl really want the ability to capture that data and use that data so they can go back to funding agencies and say hey, we have real data here and I can prove to you that this is impacting the community
- Sachin Pawaskar, Ph.D.
“The capstone program has been going on for quite a while, but we are starting to do more and more projects that are increasingly challenging,” Pawaskar says. “Prior, we did projects that were smaller in scale and not as dynamic. Now we are starting to do things that incorporate concepts like data science and data analytics – and that, I think, has been a revelation to all of our partners in the business community.”
This semester, following in the footsteps of previous partners like the Department of Defense, Visiting Nurse Association and Douglas County Emergency Management Agency, IS&T students are partnering with FITGirl, Inc., a non-profit organization that supports wellness in young women through empowerment camps, self-defense classes and a structured peer network. The FITGirl partnership will be part of the Master of Science in Management Information Systems capstone course.
FITGirl was launched three years ago by Cheri Dickmeyer, originally starting as a single summer camp, but has since expanded into much more.
“I had so many calls and emails telling me I needed to keep doing this,” Dickmeyer recently told Edge Magazine. “We grew and tried new things.”
By the end of the capstone, UNO students will provide FITGirl with the beginnings of a new, mobile-responsive website that will serve as both a personal wellness trainer and a social network that brings together FITGirl members when they are not together.
The site will include tasks, challenges and rewards – based on age level – across four areas of wellness: physical, mental, relational and nutritional. Through the site, girls will be able to set goals for themselves, like exercising 30 minutes a day, and offer rewards for achieving those goals. The site will also have ready access to things like instructional videos, healthy recipes and forums where girls can help provide other girls with advice and encouragement.
“The website will really help offer them incentives for living a healthy lifestyle, for staying active, as well as opportunities to meet friends and be kind to others,” Pawaskar says. “The object is really to provide girls with a social media platform that is a safe zone for inspiration and celebration of their accomplishments.”
Another key benefit of the website will be for Dickmeyer and the FITGirl board of directors, who will be able to collect high-level data about what kinds of resources are being used on the site and what benefits the girls are seeing as they set and meet their goals.
“We are finding that more and more nonprofit organizations are really looking at leveraging data,” Pawaskar says. “Groups like FITGirl really want the ability to capture that data and use that data so they can go back to funding agencies and say hey, we have real data here and I can prove to you that this is impacting the community.”
UNO students will also be gaining practical experience by building the website and helping code the processes that can help collect and analyze all the data collected – a skillset that is in high demand by employers. It is something Pawaksar says helps creates both educated and engaged members of the community.
“The key thing that I look for [in a capstone project] is if there is going to be enough complexity for my students to exercise the entire tool kit of what they’ve learned over the last two years while also looking at what the job market looks like. If we can identify skills that businesses are looking for and if I can incorporate that into the product that our students will produce, it’s a win-win for all.”