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Rutgers Prep Students Designing App for United Nations

Will help Non-Governmental Organizations find each other.

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Rutgers Prep students are working on an app for the United Nations’ Non-Governmental Organizations.

Come early next year, members of Non-Governmental Organizations registered with the United Nations may have an easier time finding each other.

That’s because a group of Rutgers Preparatory School students are designing a software app that will give users quick access to the UN’s database of its NGOs.

The students hope to be testing the app by January 2014, with a full roll-out sometime in February.

The five students, members of teacher Pablito Lake’s advanced software design class, have completed a “rough draft” of the app. They’re now in the refining stage.

An NGO is a “non-profit, voluntary citizens’ group which is organized on a local, national or international level,” according to the Web site NGO.org. “Task-oriented and driven by people with a common interest, NGOs perform a variety of service and humanitarian functions, bring citizen concerns to Governments, advocate and monitor policies and encourage political participation through provision of information. Some are organized around specific issues, such as human rights, environment or health.”

As part of that refining process, the students on Nov. 11 Skyped with Heidi Hunter, a software engineer with the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs.

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Computer Science teacher Pablito Lake listens to UN software engineer Heidi Hunter on Skype.

Hunter’s role will be to write whatever code is necessary to make available to the app the information the students want to present.

Hunter spent about an hour with the students, getting information on what type of data they’d be looking to present in their app, and also giving them tips and pointers on the types of things they may want to include.

Observing this from Lake’s classroom was Erica Rose, an intern with the UN Public Information Department’s NGO Relations section.

The UN’s Web site for NGOs, CSO-Net, is “a static database,” Rose said. “We’re hoping the app will be a more interactive way for them to connect.”

The students showed Hunter a rough outline of two navigation systems for the app, one which required the user to “swipe” aside a page to reach the navigation list, and a second which had navigation buttons along the bottom.

The general consensus seemed to favor the second option, because the buttons would always be visible to the user.

Even Mo Ran, a senior who is the group’s leader, said he favored the button model, even though he created the other one.

Another option Hunter discussed with the class was whether to load all the information into the app when it is activated, or let users search and choose which information is downloaded. The latter method would reduce the app’s size, Hunter said, while the former would provide faster response times.

Lake suggested a compromise, saying the app could come with information about 1,200 core NGOs, with the ability for the user to search out more.

Users will also be able to see where various NGOs are located through a map in the app, as well as save their “favorites.”

Hunter also suggested the students write in a method for the app to know when updates to the information stores within it need to be downloaded.

Hunter told the students that over the next two weeks, they need to think about the type of information they want to be accessible from the app, so she can write the necessary code to serve it.

That will start regular – possibly weekly – Skype meetings between the class and Hunter, they said.

This is not the first time a class of Lake’s has designed an app. The class designed the Rutgers Prep app, which is used to find out general information about the school, and also another app for the UN, said Kevin Merges, the school’s director of program advancement.

That app developed last year, Merges said, “teaches English using the mission and history of the UN.”

Ran, a native of China but who now lives in Somerset, said he worked on the app last year.

“Last year, I was a junior,” he said. “This year, I’m the only veteran of the program.”

Ran said the team is comprised of “equally talented people,” but he felt that it was “important” that he join this year because of his experience.

Working with the UN, Ran said, “is always pleasant, and I always learn new things.”

This new app, Ran said, will lead to “better coordination from organization to organization.”

Lake said the app-building experience is a way for the students “to use their knowledge to empower people.”

Also, he said, “I want them to get real-world experience, especially in a collaborative sense.”

The other students on the team are Somerset resident George Crabtree, Kelvin Thamphatanaporn of Raritan, Zach Schapiro of Milford and Max Mendelson of Bridgewater.

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