Last fall, Rob Visentin says, he took the “best class ever,” Mobile Computing, a new course offered by Prof. Eric Chown, chair of the computer science department.
The rising junior says he appreciated the class because he prefers coding for mobile devices to any other type of programming. “When you’re programming for the iPhone, you’re working both graphically and doing the backend technical stuff. It’s not just boring old code that solves a Sudoku puzzle. You can see something happen,” he said.
Chown says he’s now offering the course because he sees “mobile computing as the absolute future of computer science.”
As an assignment for Chown’s class, Visentin and another classmate, Stephanie Bond ’13, designed a new app that serves as a mobile guide to Bowdoin’s campus. Visentin is now taking that project a step further. This summer he’s been awarded a Gibbons Summer Research Program grant to turn his app into a multifaceted product that, when finished, will be available for free downloads from the Apple Store.
This summer he’s got several concrete goals, as well as many ideas, to improve the app. He first wants to alter its appearance to align it with the Bowdoin College look. He also wants to integrate GPS data with the Bowdoin campus map, which is the map in the app, to allow users to see where they are. On top of the information he already has included about the buildings — a brief description, address, hours and departments — he’d also like to add upcoming events scheduled at the building. For this, he’d create a function that pulled event data from already existing sources, such as the College’s event calendar and Campus Digests.
“There’s a lot of things that could be rolled into this,” Visentin said. “Each building has departments, and I could include the contact information for the departments and the people in there.” He’s also open to including walking tours, with or without audio, if they are submitted to him.
He envisions the app being useful to people walking around the campus, and something Admissions could point prospective students and their parents to when they arrive on campus. He also says current students might find it handy because he’ll include the opening and closing times for all campus facilities.
Chown says the Gibbons grant not only gives Visentin a chance to work on something he’s excited about, but it also allows the two of them to “blaze a trail that will help me and other students in the future — [on] how to build an app at Bowdoin, how to navigate the app store, who at Bowdoin to talk to about various issues, etc.” He added, “I would love it if [Visentin’s] app turned into “the Bowdoin app,” which has maps, information, events, etc., but I also want it to be what people at Bowdoin want. So a significant part of Rob’s experience will be working with other folks around campus. … He’s got to build something that helps the campus at large.”
More and more students are working on Bowdoin apps. In 2010, Ben Johnson ’11 received a Gibbons grant to develop the college’s first app — a dining application for Thorne and Moulton dining halls. Chown says a few others are working in different departments, including Earth and Oceanographic Science, on useful apps as well.
John A. Gibbons, Jr. ’64 established the Gibbons Summer Research Program to enable students to work with faculty on projects that use technology to explore interdisciplinary areas and to develop fresh approaches to the study of complex problems. The competitive grant program is just one among many that Bowdoin College offers to qualified students to support summertime research, projects, or internships.