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UGA App Created by Students to be in App Store on April 15

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

For a group of University of Georgia students, bringing some of the most popular services on campus into one, central mobile app has been an all-encompassing experience.

And on April 15, their work will be available in the Apple App Store — where students, parents, visitors, employees and fans of the Bulldog Nation can download the official UGA app.

Working with the University’s central IT department, the Student Government Association (SGA) has planned and designed a new app that will be a one-stop spot for several key services on campus.

Using an iPhone, iPad or iPod, users will be able to track campus buses, plan their meals at dining halls and catch the latest athletic scores, among other features.

“We always knew we couldn’t do it ourselves, so it was a strong collorboration with Enterprise Information Technology Services,” said Will Burgess, SGA president.

Unlike an existing app that’s aimed at prospective UGA students in the admissions process, the new app includes functions that will benefit more people.

“It can help you get through your day on campus by finding a bus or learning which dining halls are busy,” Burgess said. “Then, once you graduate, it can help you keep in touch with the University.”

About a year ago, a group of SGA students decided it was time to offer an app for the University that featured more functionality. But, the students didn’t know who could provide the technical work on the app or how to pay for it.

The students turned to the staff at EITS.

“They gave us full reign of content decisions on the app,” said Brittany Robertson, a senior graphic design student from St. Louis, who worked on the project. “They also gave me full reign of visual designs and they helped make that a reality.”

SGA members first asked their fellow students what they wanted in an app. Those comments lead to some of the features in the app and plans for future versions.

Burgess and his running mate, Marshall Mosher, also pledged to offer a UGA app as part of their campaign platform for SGA president and vice president. Once elected, they began moving forward with plans for a new app. SGA students met with EITS, which helped earmark Student Technology Fee funds for the project.

Patrick Klibanoff — a junior from Norcross majoring in finance, international business and public relations — said the app represents the culmination of a lot of work that SGA is proud to offer the University community.

“SGA does a lot of programming, but not a lot of physical products,” he said. “This is a tangible product that people can use and have for their entire college experience. I think when people see direct results of students’ and SGA’s efforts, they will get more involved.”

As a graphic design artist, Robertson said the experience not only allowed her to have a voice in the content and look of the UGA app, but she also worked closely with EITS staff during face-to-face meetings.   

“I remember the first meeting with EITS staff and they looked at me and said, ‘OK, Brittany, what do you want in the app?,’” she said. “And I had no idea that they were going to give students the freedom to make decisions on the app that the entire student body could download on their iPhones. I was just blown away with that kind of responsibility and trust. We don’t take it lightly. We really want to produce a product the we thought students would use, need and want.”

Among the features on the app, users will be able search to for buildings on a campus map, find others on the UGA People Search directory, learn about majors offered at UGA, call Designated Dawgs, and customize their campus locations and calendar.

One of the most anticipated functions of the UGA app is the campus bus tracker — a feature that allows users to pinpoint the next arrival time of buses by routes to their location, based on GPS technology.

Campus Transit was already considering the possibility of using such technology for a web-based app when EITS approached it about integrating a tracking feature in the new mobile app.

“It absolutely makes sense to us to include this functionality in the UGA mobile app,” said Brantley Hobbs, senior IT manager for Auxiliary Services, which manages Campus Transit.

Using a third-party vendor, Route Shout, Campus Transit installed a GPS tablet on all of its 56 buses for tracking. Campus Transit also worked with EITS staff to integrate its data into the UGA app.

Meanwhile, Food Services — also under the direction of Auxiliary Services — was eyeing how to expand its web-based app. After a strong promotional push during orientation, the Food Services’ website logged more than 200,000 visits in August. SGA members also said the Food Services app was popular among students.

“As we developed our app, we discovered the University was working on a campus-wide mobile app,” said Bill McGee, assistant director for information technology for Auxiliary Services.

And integrating Food Services’ app into the UGA app was easy, he added.

“The technology that EITS is using for the UGA app makes it possible for us to directly import our data into the UGA app,” McGee said.

Besides learning the real-time capacity of dining halls, UGA app users can also build their own virtual plate with nutritional information at their fingertips.

The first version of the UGA app further lays the groundwork for more functionality later — such as the ability to check grades or register for classes.

Future versions of the UGA app will include Desire2Learn — a learning management system that will replace Blackboard Vista in early 2014 as the University’s eLearning Commons. It will also include Banner, a student information system that will replace OASIS for course registration.

Dave Crouch, director of the EITS Web and Mobile Technology group, said the student-driven app has been a unique opportunity for collaboration among multiple groups on campus.

“I’ve personally been really inspired to see everyone come together on this project,” he said. “Everyone has been contributing a lot and putting a lot of effort toward its completion and success. It’s been great to see this app come to UGA, but also to see what we can do if we all work together.”

The UGA app is primarily a collaboration between SGA and EITS. Other campus partners include: Auxiliary Services, Athletic Association, the Office of Vice President for Instruction (OVPI), the Office of the Vice President for Student Affairs (OVPSA), Public Affairs, Admissions Office, Registrar’s Office and Designated Dawgs.

Among EITS staff, its web development team, identity management team, networking team and system engineers worked on the UGA app.

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