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Final project gives CIS students an opportunity to help CAT while gaining valuable experience

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CIS students Paige Palmer and Graham Smith. Absent from photo: Jock Allen

Computer Information Systems students are required to complete an extensive application development project in the second year of the program. The project teaches them about designing applications for a client server environment and gives them hands-on experience with concepts acquired during previous courses. It’s their magnum opus, the culmination of all of their hard work, and it can be both exhilarating and exhausting. But in spite of the sometimes overwhelming amount of work involved, students Paige Palmer, Graham Smith and Jock Allen were assigned a project they couldn’t keep their paws off.

For almost 10 years, the Cat Action Team has been caring for colonies of stray, feral, and barn cats across Prince Edward Island. The non-profit, registered charitable organization works to promote and sustain a humane, non-lethal method of controlling and stabilizing the feral, stray and barn cat population of P.E.I.  Since its inception, CAT has spayed, neutered, and provided medical care for more than 5,000 cats. The organization also attempts to provide food and shelter for the animals whenever possible through its network of volunteers.

Gracie, one of the cats looked after by CAT volunteers.

Last fall, Elizabeth Schoales, president of the Cat Action Team, approached CIS instructor Gerald Caissy with an interesting challenge: to provide a web-based,  interactive, searchable database of cats and cat colonies across the province. The database would contain medical information about each cat, and information about the location and population of approximately 1,000 colonies.

Veterinarians from the Atlantic Veterinary College and in private clinics provide medical services to the cats, tattooing each cat post-surgery and recording the information in a spreadsheet. Elizabeth wanted to provide them with a better method of storing the information, one that would enable searching through a variety of different criteria, which this web application would allow very effectively via the Internet.

“The database will store all the information for each colony,” she explained. “It will be able to generate reports that will enable us to track diseases and pinpoint which colonies are most problematic.”

She meets with the students on a weekly basis, and is excited about what they have created in the nine weeks that they have been working with her.

“They’ve taken a fuzzy idea and turned it into something,” she said.

A mother cat looked after by CAT volunteers.

Gerald estimates that the database and web application would have cost several thousand dollars, a price that would have been prohibitive for an organization like the Cat Action Team.

“CAT would not have been able to afford to pay to have a database like this created,” Elizabeth said. “We are so grateful to the students for taking on this project.”

As for the students, they say the project is an invaluable learning experience.

“We have to create documentation and develop user manuals,” Graham explained. “Keeping track of things is crucial on a project like this.”

Paige agreed, adding that it’s important that all members of the team are on the same wavelength.

“Good communication is a vital part of the project,” she said. “So are organizational skills, time management and problem solving.”

The third student on the team, Jock, said the team-based approach was effective in the development of the application.

“What is interesting about this assignment is that each member of our group brings different strengths and traits to the project,” he noted.

The myth that people working in the information technology sector are closeted away churning out code in isolation is quickly dispelled when students work on a project such as this. The reality is that most IT specialists need to have good communication skills so that they can take that “fuzzy idea” and turn it into an effective tool to manage data.

Gerald said the project gives the students real-life experience in their chosen field.

“Students in the CIS program learn a multitude of technical and non-technical skills, an opportunity such as this allows them to blend all past personal experiences with newly acquired knowledge and skills in order to test the waters before graduating and entering the computing industry of P.E.I.  I am very confident in all my students, and know that the CAT project in particular is being resourced with committed individuals possessing solid skill sets,” he said.

The CIS students aren’t the only group at Holland College who will be working with CAT. In February, Transitions students will be building shelters for cat colonies during their rotation in the Carpentry program.

Written by Sara Underwood

February 5, 2010 at 6:00 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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