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Student App Designer Uses Tech to Optimize Campus Life

By Kate Friend, BA ’07

The University of Dallas has a proud tradition of turning out alumni who go on to make their mark on the world in notable ways. It is even more exciting when current students step into their leadership abilities early and design new solutions for their fellow students and professors. 

Rising senior Jisoo (Suzie) Hwang is a biochemistry major who saw the need for a student portal to provide a single easy-to-access source for all the important information and events on campus. Her solution was an app called The Mall UD.

On The Mall UD, users can find essential information such as campus facility hours, upcoming events with reminder options, and a Cap Bar menu. On this app, students can look up hours for the café, gym, clinic and library, as well as upcoming campus events, both club-based and university-sponsored. There is also a contact button for the UDPD, making it easy to alert campus police to safety issues. Club, office or department organizers register as entities on the app, and once registered are able to post events and update information. 

Hwang was serving as the chair of the student concerns committee when she had her inspiration for The Mall UD. As chair of the committee, she set up a booth on the Mall every Friday to hear concerns from the student body. In meeting with and listening to her constituents, she noticed frequent requests for better communication on campus. Common complaints were that the university website is hard to navigate and that students had to use too many different media platforms in order to stay current. In addition to these concerns, students said that the COVID-19 pandemic had left them feeling disconnected from each other and uninvolved in campus life. 

It occurred to Hwang that an app would help to solve both of these problems, connecting students to happenings on campus and providing a central location for important university information. She proposed her idea to the Student Senate, which passed on the project due to cost and sustainability concerns. Undaunted, Hwang revised her idea to meet the feedback requirements, resubmitted her plan and had the project approved. She then reached out to Associate Professor of Computer Science Robert Hochberg for help bringing her vision to life, and together they began to build a team.

Hochberg’s initial suggestion was to use a web-based service, as it would be easier to develop than a native app. However, Hwang was adamant that making a native app would be cheaper in the long term, and that building the app would be an excellent experience for the student developers. Getting the entire team to agree on a plan was not easy, but Hwang was unwavering in her vision of how the app should work and what it should do for the students, faculty and staff of UD.

In February 2021 the Computer Club, or ACM Student Chapter, ran a “hackathon” to lay the groundwork for the app. Anthony Hanson, BA ’21, Therese Relucio, BA ’23, and Samantha Matz, BA ’22, provided most of the coding for the app, while Hwang was responsible for the design. The app was released in September 2021, at which point the next stage in Hwang’s work began. 

In order to make the app work, it was not only necessary to have the app itself running, but it was essential for the various organizations within the university to help with the project and populate the app with valuable information and updates. “Suzie has been dogged about getting buy-in from campus entities such as the library, Aramark, student clubs, the Fitness Center, and so on, encouraging them to designate ‘content uploaders’ so that the app remains useful and up-to-date,” said Hochberg. 

Hwang has also worked tirelessly to ensure funding for the app and to provide for its future longevity. She is currently working on plans to raise funds to sustain the app, perhaps through advertising by local businesses or donations from alumni.. Aware of the danger of the project fizzling after she and the other founding members graduate, Hwang has made it a top priority to ensure that the system can sustain itself and that students can continue benefiting from the app after she has moved on to medical school. She said she also counts on the continued dedication of Hochberg to keep the project alive.

When asked about her ideas for the future of the app, Hwang said the team is working on a polling feature that would allow students to vote in elections such as for club officers, Student Government officers, and Groundhog king and queen. 

Hochberg spoke of Hwang’s aptitude for leading such an intense project in glowing terms. “Suzie has patiently guided us, with humor and a consistently upbeat attitude, to build the app that UD students have begun to use, and find useful, more and more. She is always positive, full of great ideas, and always smiling – yet at the same time somehow intimidating, probably because she has such a solid vision for the app, and permits no wavering from that vision.” 

Hwang’s future plans involve the possibility of more app development, but not until after medical school. “I enjoyed conducting The Mall project very much, but I’m not planning on doing any more app development for a while because I’d like to focus on my coursework. But I know that health care software development is huge in the medical field, and I’d be interested to participate in related projects after I graduate medical school.”

The Mall UD might have changed the way UD students interact with campus life, but Hwang says that the experience of building the app also helped her grow as a person. “Working on this project has been very humbling and rewarding. I learned to work with others because of the enormity of this project and my inability to complete it alone. Computer science is not my expertise, and this project has taught me the humility that comes from being wrong. I learned patience, because my hasty decisions often resulted in worse results and frustration. Without the help and support of my peers and mentors, I wouldn’t have come this far with this project.” 

The Mall UD is available to download for free from the App Store and Google Play.

 
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