Interdisciplinary team uses OEIP Spin In program to create iPhone app

October 23, 2013 under CANR News

students turn professors' iDEA Fan Deck into an iPhone appIn 2012, University of Delaware faculty members Jules Bruck and Anthony Middlebrooks created the iDEA Fan Deck, a handheld design-based tool that provides prompts for people needing problem-solving help in any field.

The tool was a success but those who used it all had the same observation – that it would make a great iPhone app.

To make that suggestion a reality, Bruck and Middlebrooks, in partnership with the University’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships (OEIP) Spin In program, teamed with three UD students.

Through Spin In, OEIP matches entrepreneurs who are developing innovative early stage technology with a team of UD undergraduate students to further develop both the technology and the marketing strategy.

The student team is mentored by UD faculty and works side-by-side with entrepreneurs to provide solutions to challenges that need to be overcome on the path to commercialization.

After a project has been completed, the technology is spun back out of the University, and the entrepreneur moves forward with plans for product development.

“Spin In arose out of part of our mission, to provide a unique experiential learning opportunity to undergraduate students in the areas of innovation, entrepreneurship and product development,” said David Weir, director of OEIP.

“Working with Spin In is a really amazing opportunity for a business,” said Bruck, associate professor in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources’ Department of Plant and Soil Sciences, explaining that while their product is a useful tool as a physical fan deck, “it could be more accessible as an app, and more iterative, so we can make updates and be more fluid with it.”

The iDEA Fan Deck is color-coded and icon based, dividing the problem-solving process into three major phases: understand, imagine, and iterate. The tool can be used to address problems from pre-start to implementation, or as a prompt to spark a stalled process.

The graphic design of the original fan desk was created by Keefer Charneau, a visual communication major who graduated from UD in 2012 and has since moved on to work at a design firm in New York City.

“We thought if we could prompt people to pay attention to all the phases of the problem-solving process, then that would be a more effective way of helping them innovate,” said Middlebrooks, associate professor in the School of Public Policy and Administration in the College of Arts and Sciences, who explained that the fan deck went through 17 iterations before the final version was created.

“The fun part about working with Spin In is that it prompted us to really advance the tool itself,” said Middlebrooks. “The app has two or three major features that are above and beyond the physical fan deck. It has a decision tree, a brand new design thinking development facet that is a major feature, and the Spark Me random question generator. The app allows us to do some things that we couldn’t do with the physical fan deck.”

Interdisciplinary student team 

The students assigned to work on the project included Candace Galentine, Sarah Minnich and Jacob Nachman.

They all agreed that working in an interdisciplinary team — something Middlebrooks and Bruck stress in their combined leadership classes — was greatly beneficial to their educational experience.

“It’s something that you don’t get in the classroom,” said Galentine, an Honors Program junior double majoring in finance and management information systems. “When you work in groups in classes, you’re working with people who are in a similar major. When I’m in a finance class working with a group, they’re finance students, but for this I’m working with a graphic designer and a computer engineer, so it’s completely different.”

Minnich echoed these sentiments, saying, “Working in a multidisciplinary team was probably the most beneficial aspect of the project. I learned a lot about Jake’s discipline and Candace’s discipline, I learned a lot more about their fields, and I’m sure they learned about my field and my background as well.”

Galentine said she started working part-time on the project in February. As the project manager, she worked on many aspects ranging from facilitating meetings and communication between IT, design and entrepreneurs to working on market assessment, developing potential business models, finding business opportunities, forming a project plan, and helping create a wireframe for the project.

Galentine also focused the project on the end user by performing research and testing — both with people who had heard of and used the iDEA Fan Deck and those that had not. It was through this research that Galentine decided to make the app available as a “freemium.”

“The app is free to download, with limited content, and then the rest you have to purchase for $2.99,” said Galentine. “We felt that this would eliminate the barrier for people who don’t know what the iDEA Fan Deck is so they can download the free version, see if they like it, and then be able to purchase it.”

Summer project

Nachman, an Honors Program sophomore majoring in computer engineering, came aboard a month after Galentine. By summer, Minnich joined the team and they were able to work full time on the project.

As the programmer, Nachman was in charge of writing the code and adding functionality to the app, something that he said took anywhere from 200 to 300 hours of work.

Not only did he have to invent the code for the app, something that he had never done before, but he also had to get that code approved by Apple.

“That was a little bit difficult — it got rejected once and then it took a several updates to get it up to date with everything they wanted,” he said. “But learning how to do the work was great because I had no idea how to do it when I went in to the project; I just had to figure it all out.”

Spin In students conducting a presentation for President Harker about an "iDea Fan Deck" app for the iPhone that they helped develop and market.Nachman also said that working with a problem-solving tool came in handy when the group encountered problems of their own on the project. “The iDEA Fan Deck was helpful during the process because when we got stuck, we were already looking at information that could help guide us through the process. I think it’s a very useful tool. I’ve used it for a few projects that I’ve worked on during the school year to get my thoughts started.”

Minnich, who received a bachelor’s degree from UD in 2010 and a master’s in plant and soil sciences this year, and who and now works for OEIP, served as the project’s graphic designer. Having worked with Bruck and Middlebrooks in the past to create one of the first fan deck prototypes, Minnich was familiar with the product from the outset.

“In past courses they’ve taught, they have structured the curriculum to be design challenged-based and the fan deck is a really helpful tool in guiding the students along the way in their design process,” said Minnich.

As a previous teaching assistant for some of those courses, Minnich said that it is interesting to see how students from non-design backgrounds utilize the iDEA Fan Deck. “I think that it is most helpful for them because it pushes them to think in a different way then they’re used to in their regular curriculum.”

As for this project, Minnich said that it was great to work with Bruck and Middlebrooks, who gave the three students the autonomy to make the project their own. “They trusted us and we felt very responsible for what we were creating and we had a real handle on it,” said Minnich.

As designer, Minnich worked closely with Nachman, who would input the code. “Our jobs were pretty intertwined,” she said. “I would design some of the graphics and then he would import them, including things like the buttons, the layouts, fonts, and the backgrounds.”

Minnich said the students agreed that they benefited greatly from working on the project, getting real-world, hands on-experience and learning how to work as part of an interdisciplinary team.

“The whole process started out really rough and there was this level of uncomfortability because none of us had ever worked on designing an app before and we weren’t really sure what it was going to entail,” said Minnich. “But we sat down and made timelines and benchmarks, and the whole process of seeing it come together was really satisfying.”

Click here to download the app.

Article by Adam Thomas

Video by Adam Thomas and Danielle Quigley

This article can also be viewed on UDaily.


Environmental professionals speak to UD students about careers

April 2, 2012 under CANR News

A number of University of Delaware students spent their St. Patrick’s Day learning about potential career paths from environmental professionals at the 2012 Environmental Career Morning event hosted by the Department of Food and Resource Economics in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources (CANR).

Panelists included representatives from federal and state government, an analyst from a consulting firm and a coordinator from the non-profit sector.

After a welcome from Steve Hastings, professor in the department, the four professionals engaged in a panel discussion, answering questions from Hastings, who served as the panel moderator, and from the students in attendance. The panel was followed by a mingling session during which the students got to meet the professionals in a one-on-one setting.

Kate Miller, a senior environmental studies major in the College of Arts and Sciences and an Honors Program student, attended the event and said that the panelists offered great advice to the students. “I feel like a lot of the advice students receive about the job market is either very sugar coated or downright depressing,” she said, “so it was refreshing to have professionals share their experiences in a way that made you feel like even though finding the job you want can be difficult at times, it can certainly be done.”

Miller, who plans to pursue a master’s degree in water science and policy at UD and hopes to eventually work in watershed policy for either the government or a non-profit agency, added that the panelists presented great tips about the hiring process and provided helpful insight into resumes and interview skills.

Erika Farris, a UD alumna and an environmental scientist with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Water, was one of the panelists, and offered up some advice to current students seeking a career in the environmental field, saying that it is important to obtain as much experience as possible and to pursue an advanced degree. She also stressed the importance of remaining open minded when looking for a career. “Even if something does not fit perfectly with your interests,” she said, “you can probably learn something from the experience, and may even discover new interests or skills.”

Farris — who graduated from UD with a bachelor’s degree in 2007 and a master’s degree in 2009, and who had Hastings as an undergraduate adviser — said that she had wanted to be a part of a career day because she can remember what it was like being a student and looking for a job. “I remember being in their shoes, not that long ago, and being uncertain about what opportunities existed with that major,” she said.

Besides reaching out to the students and providing them career advice, Farris also said that she wanted to take part in Career Morning because she was “interested in hearing about the career interests of current students, and learning about what career paths other alumni have taken.”

Jennifer Walls, the principal planner for the planning section of the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC), also sat on the panel. She explained that it is important for students entering the work force to “be flexible and open to job opportunities outside of your major.” She encouraged students to “think outside of the box when looking for jobs, and take part in as many internships as you can as an undergraduate or graduate student. If you can’t find an internship, then volunteer locally.”

Melissa Luxemberg, a senior in CANR and an Honors Program student, said that with graduation approaching, she is trying to keep all doors open as to what she can do for a future career, so she enjoyed being able to speak with professionals from the environmental field. “It was great to pick their brains about the opportunities they think are most promising for someone with my major and degree.”

Panelists included:

  • Jennifer Walls, principal planner for the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control’s Planning Section;
  • Erika Farris, environmental scientist, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water;
  • Samantha Loprinzo, analyst for the consulting firm ICF International; and
  • Erin McVey, watershed coordinator for the non-profit organization Sassafras River Association.

Article by Adam Thomas

This article can also be viewed on UDaily


Senior Thesis Awards enable students to focus on research over Winter Session

January 31, 2012 under CANR News

John Paul Harris, a University of Delaware senior, has spent UD’s Winter Session in the lab, testing the capability of the common, edible, oyster mushroom to remove harmful bacteria such as E. coli from water. He hopes his research will lead to a cheaper, greener way for cattle farmers in his hometown of Exmore, Va., to treat waste water and storm water to meet EPA standards.

Harris, a plant and soil sciences major and Honors Program student, is one of 23 recipients of Winter Session Senior Thesis Awards from the University’s Undergraduate Research Program. The $700 grants have enabled these students to pursue research full-time during Winter Session, Jan. 3-Feb. 4.

“University of Delaware students pursuing a senior thesis have the opportunity to immerse themselves in their scholarship,” says Lynnette Overby, director of UD’s Office of Undergraduate Research and Experiential Learning.

“Under the direction of committed faculty mentors, experiments are completed, chapters are written, and interviews are analyzed. These four weeks provide the time for students to work full time on a capstone activity that will lead to solutions of important disciplinary problems and launch their future as scholars and problem solvers,” Overby says.

After Harris completes his bachelor of science degree, he has his sights set on a doctorate and further exploration of the “treasure trove” of biological processes he says the microbial world can provide humankind.

“My goal in pursuing my Ph.D in microbiology is to elucidate the value of microbes through extensive research into their practical applications and subsequent employment in technology,” notes Harris, who is working under the guidance of Prof. Anastasia Chirnside. “The research I have done so far at the University of Delaware has let me begin doing just that.”

In another lab on campus, psychology major Lisa Dokovna, from Princeton Junction, N.J., is doing research on fetal alcohol spectrum disorder. She got involved in undergraduate research her sophomore year, working in Prof. Mark Stanton’s Developmental Behavioral Neuroscience lab.

Moderate to severe cognitive impairments can occur in children whose mothers consumed alcohol while pregnant. Dokovna wants to understand how such cognitive impairments occur and develop interventions to amelioriate them.

“My experience has motivated me to apply to graduate school to continue research and pursue a Ph.D. in neuroscience,” Dokovna says.

Shane Palkovitz, an English major and Honors Program student from Lincoln University, Pa., is in South Africa interviewing individuals who have been displaced from Zimbabwe. His adviser is McKay Jenkins, Cornelius A. Tilghman Professor of English.

One interviewee, who was forced off her family farm in Zimbabwe in 2002, told Palkovitz: “When they took our farm, we left the country. My grandmother would not come. Because of border restrictions, when she was sick, she could not get the medicine she needed, and she died alone on that side.”

Palkovitz says that although a number of factual publications exist on human displacement, his goal is “to add the human element to the statistics.”

“The hope of this research is to give a voice to those who wish to share their stories of displacement,” Palkovitz says. “It has been both an adventure and an honor getting to meet and interview so many amazing people.”

Article by Tracey Bryant

Photos by Evan Krape

This article can also be viewed on UDaily


UD student spends summer as intern at Baltimore’s National Aquarium

December 16, 2011 under CANR News

When Sarah Thorne was young, she would take trips to the National Aquarium in Baltimore and her favorite part would be getting to see the big three-finned turtle, Calypso, languidly swimming in the “Wings in the Water” exhibit. Little did she know that in just a few years, she’d be on the other side of the exhibit, swimming right alongside Calypso as part of a summer internship at the aquarium.

“I’ve been going to the aquarium since I was a baby and I loved this turtle, so when I got to swim with her, that was pretty neat,” said Thorne.

As an aviculture intern working in the “Animal Planet Australia: Wild Extremes” exhibit, Thorne, a junior Honors Program student in the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, was able to interact with a lot of the birds at the aquarium and she said that her favorite part involved giving the birds baths.

“At the very top of the exhibit you could put a mister on a hose and then spray it at this one tree, and the birds would all come over and start stretching out their wings to cool themselves off. That was kind of cool to watch,” Thorne said. “It was the easiest part — you just stood there and got to watch the birds.”

Her work was not restricted solely to birds, however. Thorne explained that she was able to interact with a host of different animals, including getting the opportunity to conquer her long-standing fear of snakes. “I’m afraid of snakes so they thought they’d try to let me see how I could deal with it, but I just fed them.”

Thorne said that she didn’t get around to holding the snakes and joked that she was “OK with that.”

Although sometimes she would get into a normal day-to-day routine, such as cleaning or feeding the animals, Thorne said she learned to always expect the unexpected because the animals could be unpredictable.

“Sometimes you could have a sick animal and you had to go do the veterinary exams,” she said. “You thought you were going to be preparing the diets or cleaning, then all of a sudden you were taking care of that animal instead.”

She also participated in enrichment programs for the animals, sometimes giving an animal a different toy to play with or switching its food.

Other tasks included putting up towels for flying foxes to hide behind, and spraying those towels with different animal scents. Thorne said it was while working with the flying foxes that a particularly memorable event occurred.

Thorne explained that the foxes don’t so much glide like a plane as they do crash into objects to make themselves stop: “They are crash landing flyers, they have to hit something to stop.”

So when one flying fox got stranded on a tree in the exhibit, Thorne said it “couldn’t figure out where to go next, ended up trying to fly and fell on the floor.”

She had to warn people nearby to stand back and then summoned an aquarium staff member to pick the animal up because she wasn’t allowed to do that.

Thorne said that except for being frightened, the flying fox escaped the incident without a scratch. “Luckily, he tried to land on a tree and he sort of slid down and then he fell on the floor.”

Not only did Thorne work as an intern at the National Aquarium, however. She also kept busy during the first part of the summer as a veterinary intern at a U.S. Department of Agriculture center in Beltsville, Md., while also holding down a part-time job at Clark’s Elioak Farm in Ellicott City, Md.

As a double major in agriculture and natural resources and animal biosciences, Thorne gained valuable hands-on experience at all of her jobs and was thrilled to get the chance to intern at the National Aquarium.

For those who would like an internship at the National Aquarium, Thorne encourages them to visit the internships website.

She also encouraged anyone who might apply not to be discouraged if things don’t work out right away. “I did apply another year and I had to apply again,” Thorne said. “So it might take two times, but it’s definitely worth it.”

Article by Adam Thomas

This article was originally posted on UDaily