Driven to Serve: IST's Class Act

IST students worked with the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum to develop crowd tracking software.

Volgenau School’s Information Sciences & Technology (IST) students use capstone projects with local non-profits and promote the Mason tradition of service. 

“Over the past five years IST senior teams have had a choice of projects,” said Pete Farrell, the department’s capstone coordinator. “But our philosophy has always been to mix commercial projects with those of our local non-profit organizations as a way to give back to our community.” 

The student teams responded with energy, enthusiasm, and dedication selecting small and medium size charitable organizations for their projects. 

They worked with an FBI unit and a local organization on data capture related to missing and exploited children; The Smithsonian’s Air & Space Museum on a Near Field Computing (NFC) application and a tour tracking solution; Children of Imprisoned Parents on social media, membership, donations and grant application processes; the Manassas Museum implementing archiving technologies and social media; and with the Lorton Community Action Center, a local food bank and clothing charity, on inventory processes and technology to speed up intake and distribution.   

“The non-profit organizations could never afford a full year’s worth of IT talent to analyze and implement improvements in their IT infrastructure and their processes,” said Farrell. “Volgenau students provide that analysis at no cost to the sponsors.“

The IST faculty members mentor the students, but the students interact directly with the sponsors. They learn how to gather information, design tailored solutions, and implement the solution in a real-world situation. Each project is a unique and new experience. 

The students begin by analyzing the sponsor’s business processes, IT infrastructure, business constraints and goals in the fall semester. The course continues in the spring when the team designs, implements, and documents a two or three part solution and also trains the client in its use. The solution might include an improved IT infrastructure, a data capture process, and social media plans to help the non-profit meet its mission and fundraising goals.

“Students are very enthusiastic about their experience with the nonprofit community,” said Farrell.  “And that enthusiasm continues after graduation. We have had several students become volunteers at their sponsor’s organization after they graduated.”