Communication at UD: club events and safety concerns

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New App, "The Mall". Photo by Annabelle Nicholas

On Sunday, Oct. 17, Dr. Gregory Roper forwarded a mass email announcing a student-created app built to facilitate campus life. Forwarded from Jisoo “Suzie” Hwang, a junior biochemistry major and the chair of the Student Concerns Committee in Student Government, this email detailed the creation of “The Mall” app. 

Along with the budding “SafeZone” app from Chief Russell Greene and UD’s police department, these apps are a part of an effort to create a more effective communication system among the student body.

During the spring, Hwang served as chair of the Student Concerns Committee. This arrangement allowed her to listen to her constituents’ concerns during events such as “SG on the Mall.” The most common suggestion was to build a platform communicating club events on campus, which were already difficult to attend due to COVID-19 restrictions.

With this in mind, Hwang developed the ideal formatting and features for a new app that would serve the student community. The previous dean of students, Ms. Julia Carrano, and Dr. Ellen Steinmiller, head of the chemistry department, advised her to bring these ideas forward to Dr. Robert Hochberg, associate professor of the computer science program.

Under his tutelage, she was able to host a hackathon, or an intense collaborative programming effort, where the basic framework for the app developed. When the project continued from February into the summer months, the Office of Student Affairs and Student Government contributed by funding a proper wage for the student developers.

Though the app was a group effort between student programmers Therese Relucio and Andi Wagner, and student graphic designers Tien T. Bui, Anthony Ngo and Trinity Ngo, Anthony Hanson, a recent graduate from the computer science program at UD and a budding entrepreneur, was the main architect for the app’s overall structure.

Using the Dart programming language and building on the Flutter framework, similar to JavaScript, they synced it onto Google’s Firestore database. Since they were building the app from scratch, it was a learning experience for Hanson and the rest of the developers.  

“I’m really excited — people have told me a lot of good things — that it’s actually helping the students. We look forward to making this app better, more user-friendly,” Hwang said. “Club officers put so much time and effort into organizing these events, so if this app could really help connect the students and the various student organizations, that would be great!”

“The Mall” app, which is accessible through the App Store and Google Play, can be used in two ways: as either a club leader or a common student. Officers from different clubs can upload different events authorized by Student Government and advertise for recruiting purposes. 

The general audience can view these events, as well as explore athletic and institutional functions. Custom reminders when these events occur are also features unique to the app. 

A partnership with “The Mall” and CriticalArc’s new app “SafeZone” may be a possibility. “SafeZone” will be implemented by the UD Police Department as a replacement for the emergency blue light towers — archaic technology by modern-day terms.

“SafeZone,” found on the app store as well as Google Play, presents itself as a way to efficiently call for help using an official student ID, within an established geofence around campus. With a click of a button, it can alert first responders, mental health workers or even resident assistants to a specific location and details on the safety of the situation. 

The app covers all sorts of situations that require assistance, be it an official police escort in the case of suspected stalking or simply being locked out of a dorm room. If an emergency calls for it, the app can track an individual outside of the geofence. Since the programming allows it to work at a very low frequency, the app would still act as an auxiliary method outside of signal range.

Though it is not confirmed to be put to use in the future, the possibility to use the “SafeZone” app in Rome, and other parts of Europe, exists for further research and consideration. Other features such as native language translation are also worth noting. 

“We’re always looking to make the student experience better,” said Greene. “If you let us know where you’re at, we’ll be on our way.”

 Though the app is still in its test phase and leasing talks have not yet come to fruition with CriticalArc, there is very little uncertainty over its usage on campus by next semester. 

As UD continues to evolve in terms of technological communication, the “The Mall” and “SafeZone” apps will assist in bettering the undergraduate and graduate experience by securing the safety of the students and improving on campus affairs.

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